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Childbirth Death Rates High for Black Women

6/14/2011, 3:16 p.m.

Online Editor

Black women are taking the lead over whites and other ethnic groups in childbirth and pregnancy-relted deaths, according to an article entitled, "Maternal Mortality Rates Are Increasing for African-American Women," on Black News.com

Among conditions attributed to their deaths are high rates of obesity, high blood pressure and inadequate prenatal care. Also, increasing deaths from caesarean sections among African-Americans who were dangerously overweight or suffered from hypertension or other ailments, have been case for concern, the article noted.

While a 2008 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention report states that nationally, blacks were four times more likely than whites to have a have a pregnancy-related death, new reports have revealed that the pregnancy-related mortality rate in some states rivals that in some developing nations. Particularly in New York City, where blacks are nearly eight times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than whites, and in California where pregnant blacks are four times as likely to die from childbirth, according to the article.

"When we look at some of the factors associated with maternal mortality, most of the underlying factors tend to be dominant in the African-American community, and it is manifested in the health disparities that affect our population," Dr. Kerry M. Lewis, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Howard University's College of Medicine and chief of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, was quoted as saying.

Lewis, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, also said that patients are too often treated by family practitioners, nurse midwives, general obstetricians and gynecologists instead of specialists trained in high-risk pregnancies and medical problems that can cause complications during birth.

"We have to look at the reality of where we practice," Lewis added. "Obesity is much greater among African-Americans. I deal with a gamut of high-risk problems, but complications from obesity are an underlying problem in all of them."

But according to a report published in April on womensenews.org, the pattern of blacks dying at higher rates in childbirth and pregnancy doesn't surprise Dr. David R. Williams, professor of African and African studies at Harvard University.

"This pattern is not unique to childbirth," Williams said. "It affects the health of African Americans from cradle to grave and has continued for over 100 years. Today, African Americans are more likely to die of 13 of the top 15 causes of death than are whites."

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