NIH to fund research on racial disparities in pregnancy-related complications and deaths

Nov. 18, 2020

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund new research examining racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related complications and deaths, according to a press release.

The grants to six institutions are expected to total over $21 million over five years, pending the availability of funds. The project is supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), and the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health.

The NIH said the research will include original, innovative, and multidisciplinary efforts to advance the understanding, prevention, and reduction of pregnancy-related complications and deaths among disproportionately affected women. This includes women from racial and ethnic minority groups, women with underprivileged socioeconomic status, and those living in underserved rural settings.

According to the NIH, the racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality are stark: African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women are 3.2 and 2.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, respectively, than are white women. In the case of African American women, the disparity increases with age. Black women under 20 are 1.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women in the same age group, but black women ages 30-34 are 4.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women ages 30-34. Approximately two thirds of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, underscoring the need for more research to improve the maternal health outcomes for women before, during, and after delivery.

In addition to maternal deaths, over 25,000 women each year experience severe maternal morbidity

"This initiative is a significant undertaking to reduce preventable causes of maternal deaths," said NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD. "We need to take a closer look at underlying factors beyond the individual, such as healthcare access, healthcare settings providing care, community resources, and racial bias and examine how these factors may impact the maternal health outcomes of racial and ethnic minority women."

The NIH said the funding furthers NIH's commitment to address the rising rates of illness and death from preventable pregnancy-related complications through the IMPROVE Initiative, which addresses disparities in maternal health.

The organizations that received funding are Tufts University, Boston; University of South Carolina at Columbia; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Emory University, Atlanta; Michigan State University, East Lansing; and University of Pittsburgh.

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