By Karen Stokes
The Howard University men’s basketball team chose to support Black Maternal Health as their social justice policy initiative for the 2022-2023 season.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the team decided to use their platform to advocate for maternal health and Black women, who are at high risk for pregnancy-related complications and death.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure joined the basketball team for breakfast and a discussion on the Black Maternal Health crisis.
“It was such a pleasure to be with those young men who were so full of energy and really passionate about caring for their moms, their sisters and their peers.” Brooks-LaSure said.
In addition, The White House recently proclaimed April 11 through April 17, 2023, as Black Maternal Health Week.
“This week, as we continue our work to make pregnancy and childbirth safe, dignified, and joyful for all, let us remember that health care should be a right and not a privilege,” said President Biden.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of infant mortality (death) among Black babies is almost two times higher than the national average (5.4 per 1,000 live births). The rate of infant mortality among Black babies in the U.S. is 10.6 per 1,000 live births.
“I don’t know of a greater area in our healthcare policy issues than the disparities in maternal health,” said Brooks-LaSure. “It’s a priority for this administration, from the President, Vice President Harris, who has been a leader on this since her time in the Senate and Dr. Rice. It’s crucial that we have a whole government approach.”
Black women in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Women in America are dying at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than in any other developed nation.
Studies show that Black women are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings, even as they suffer from severe injuries and pregnancy complications and ask for help. Systemic inequities are also to blame. When mothers do not have access to safe and stable housing before and after childbirth, they are at greater risk of falling ill, according to the White House.
“Maternal health is a place where we see relatively healthy women who don’t have underlying health conditions dying because someone misses a symptom and so I think that’s why it’s such a stark disparity. A young woman goes into labor and she’s perfectly healthy, then she or the child comes out with a negative health outcome,” Brooks-LaSure said.
“It’s so heartbreaking and I think that it really highlights the importance of having a relationship with your doctor.”
She continued, “Maternal health is not just when you’re actually delivering that you need to have a relationship with that doctor or provider, it’s before you get pregnant, it’s while you are going through your pregnancy. Black women are more likely to only see a doctor during the last trimester when you should see the doctor at the beginning of your pregnancy as just one aspect of making sure that there will be better maternal health outcomes.”
The Howard men’s basketball team continues to rally for Black Maternal Health through service activities. The men did a project at Mamatoto Village, an organization run by Black women, with a day of service packaging 7,950 diapers, 50 diaper bags and 190 kits for postpartum, household supplies and lactation support. They are continuing their partnerships with similar organizations like Planned Parenthood Advocates for DC, Maryland, and NoVa, the Black Maternal Health Caucus and more.
“It was good to see it’s not just Black women that care for Black women’s health. It was very moving to see a group of young men who cared about their peers who really wanted to be part of a solution and were very concerned about the disparities that they see in that community,” said Brooks-LaSure.