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Black immigrants don’t get the maternal care they need, and COVID-19 has made it worse

Systemic racism, health disparities, and bias continue can lead to devastating experiences for people of color.
Khadija Gurnah September 10th, 2020
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This year has been an incomparable and often traumatic experience for us all. Fear of COVID-19 infection, homeschooling, social isolation, and economic upheaval has transfixed our collective experiences. Yet systemic racism, health disparities, and bias continue to lead to inequitable, even devastating experiences for Black and Latinx populations.

Disproportionately higher rates of unemployment and risk of eviction coupled with less access to health care are the trifecta of disequilibrium and inequity for Black and brown people during the pandemic. For those with inadequate access to health care, emergencies tend to exacerbate underlying, long-standing, and interconnected crises. Sadly, Black and Latinx communities are not only more likely to contract COVID-19, but are also more likely to die from it.

The effects of the long-standing maternal health pandemic on our nation are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States ranks 55th in maternal mortality in comparison to other countries, and race has an oversized impact on maternal health outcomes in the country. Black women are three times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts. These grim statistics are strong evidence of the deep inequities in our national maternal health outcomes.

While most of the immigrant health literature finds foreign-born mothers experience better birth outcomes compared to those born in the U.S., their birthing experiences get relatively little attention. On the positive side, data shows Black immigrant mothers are less likely to give birth to preterm or low birth weight infants than U.S.-born Black women. But on the negative side, they are more likely to experience adverse birth outcomes than nearly any other U.S. or foreign-born group.

Our nationwide survey of predominantly Black and Latinx communities found that mothers are experiencing food insecurity, housing insecurity, job loss, and are having problems accessing formula and diapers. They fear that mothers may be forced to give birth without a partner or the doulas they made birthing plans with. They lack or are experiencing limited access to pre- and postnatal care. Many are afraid to seek services if they are immigrants, especially if they are undocumented.

As health and social justice issues move to the forefront, the need for better data for immigrant communities is clear. This must start with a conversation about race and how to better report outcomes for Black immigrants. Given the challenges and complexity of self-reported data on race, finding and highlighting firsthand birthing narratives of Black immigrants would help elevate our understanding of the maternal health landscape of minoritized populations.

As we continue to grapple with the compounding effects of the health crises and challenges immigrants face in the U.S., we must cultivate a stronger understanding of the racial diversity in the immigrant community and both demand and work for racial equity in maternal health care for immigrant communities. We must work together to undo existing inequities at a time when Black communities are especially vulnerable to adverse health outcomes. Failure to do so is failing Black immigrant mothers and families.

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