Despite medical advances and higher per-capita health spending than any other country, the U.S. sees a higher — and growing — rate of maternal mortality than any other developed nation.
Ridgeland-based Mississippi Public Health Institute (MSPHI) is increasing community engagement projects to reduce these preventable deaths in Mississippi. Across the state, 33 women die from pregnancy-related complications for every 100,000 births — one of the highest rates in the nation and almost double the U.S. average, according to the state department of health’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee. In our state, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.
In a federal “call to action” last year that laid out steps to reduce maternal deaths, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “Maternal mortality should be a ‘never’ event.”
Partnering on the ambitious plan to reduce the maternal mortality rate by 50%, then-Surgeon General, Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams, pointed to the inequities that still plague our health systems. “A mother or mother-to-be dies every 12 hours in the U.S. These tragedies are unacceptable. We cannot truly improve maternal health — until we acknowledge and address the disparate outcomes many women of color face,” he said.
Public health experts agree that while the causes are complex, the solutions start with ensuring wrap-around preventive health care for women before, during and after pregnancy. That includes support services, like doulas — community health workers who partner with a woman during pregnancy and serve as a birth coach, support person and advocate. Studies show that partnering pregnant women with a doula can lower healthcare costs, reduce c-sections and shorten labor, according to the March of Dimes.
But many women don’t know about doula services or can’t afford them. For vulnerable women in particular — either due to increased health risks, lacking support systems or living in poverty — often cannot access doula care.
Over the last decade, MSPHI has worked to change that. Thanks to a new $150,000 grant from Amerigroup Mississippi, under the parent company and national health plan Anthem, MSPHI is expanding its intervention programs to reduce health disparities around maternal mortality.
Through this new grant, MSPHI will improve and expand services and support for pregnant women participating in the Jackson Safer Childbirth Experience program, which launched in 2019, pairing six doulas with 49 families during the first year.
Expanding services means hiring more doulas to increase program capacity, increasing training and technology utilization for both doula and patient to improve continuity of care, and identifying and eliminating barriers to care such as transportation, housing, and food access.
Through the new grant, MSPHI will also expand maternal community engagement around breastfeeding support and substance use disorder prevention and treatment.
For more information on MSPHI maternal health work, visit: msphi.org.