Catherine McKinnell, Chair of the influential House of Commons Petitions Committee has led a debate in Parliament on black maternal healthcare and mortality.
The debate was triggered following a petition started by campaigners Tinuke Awe and Clo Abe and signed by over 187,000 petitioners.
The petition highlights that statistically in 21st-century Britain, the colour of a woman’s skin affects how safe she and her child are during pregnancy and birth which is a stark example of racial health inequality in this country.
The latest data show that black women are more than four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or in the six weeks after giving birth. Women from Asian backgrounds are twice as likely as white women to die during pregnancy.
Thankfully maternal deaths are very rare. Around one in 10,000 pregnant women dies every year from causes related to their pregnancy. Every single one of those deaths is a tragedy, but they are a very small proportion of all pregnancies. The situation has also improved slightly over the last 10 years.
However, the figures mask underlying and long-standing inequalities in maternal mortality when it comes to race, yet there is not yet a base of research and evidence to fully explain their root causes and to point the way forward. There is still no Government target to eliminate the gap and that needs to be addressed urgently.
We need to address the under-researching of health issues that black women face to get a clear picture of the data on maternal deaths among different ethnic groups.
Maternal deaths are also just the tip of the iceberg. For every woman who dies, many more will have severe pregnancy complications, and there is evidence of disparities between ethnic groups in that respect, too. However, the number of those cases and the impact on their families and lives is not recorded. Lack of research on those so-called near misses is a gap in the knowledge base that must be urgently and proactively corrected.
Speaking at the conclusion of the debate Catherine said:
“I hope that the debate has helped to raise awareness and understanding of why the issue must be urgently addressed, and I hope that we have done justice to the passionate and powerful campaigning of Clo and Tinuke.
“I know that they and we all want to see change, so I hope that the Government and NHS leaders have heard that call today. I urge the Minister to meet those who are affected, to continue to listen and to ensure that data continues to be collected and that changes are made.”