In the 21st century, Black women face significantly higher pregnancy risks in relation to white women. Last year's MBRRACE report highlighted that Black women were four times more likely to die from childbirth, whilst miscarriages were 40% higher than for white women. Such disparities prompted research into a new pregnancy tool, alongside personalised care provision. It has been said that this new technology can eliminate baby deaths amongst Black, Asian and ethnic minorities. Experts say the standard screening method hasn't changed since 1970, and this new technology will consider maternal ethnicity.
The tool is currently in use at St George's Hospital in London, and studies were performed by Tommy's National Centre for Maternity Improvement, led by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives.
This is an option Venus Williams, a mother from London, wished was available when she had her baby last year. She describes her birthing experience as "traumatic from the start." She also said: "I'm glad something is being done, honestly… starting from somewhere is always key." In an interview, Williams described being neglected by doctors and "forced to give birth in a cramped room." She said she and her daughter could have potentially lost their lives if her birthing partner hadn't noticed something was wrong.
"It was definitely because I'm Black, 100%. The midwife constantly said that the blood loss was normal, just to find out it wasn't, and I had internally torn. I was in special unit care for a week. They even left a bit of the placenta in me." Williams believes that if personalised care was given, her pregnancy could've had a different outcome.
Shelby-Ann Yeboah, from London, also had a similar experience. Both first-time mothers felt their concerns were ignored. "There were a lot of complications - she said - I was in labour on Friday and gave birth Sunday evening. So, you can imagine how painful that must have felt. I think they waited out my emergency C section for way too long…once my daughter had come out, they had to rush her into ICU. I felt like I was left in the dark about a lot of things concerning my daughters' health."
The government has assigned a new task force to target racial disparities. Yeboah is "hopeful" that all these issues that she, and many other women from ethnic minorities experiences, will decrease with the new improvements made by healthcare professionals.
The new pregnancy algorithm compares individual chances of risk, and with targeted care, mortality rates were equivalent between ethnic groups. Perinatal death dropped from a rate of 3 amongst mothers from Black and Asian communities.
A spokesperson from Tommy's National Centre for Maternity Improvement said: "The results were so promising that it is now currently being piloted at three sites across the UK. With the additional data gathered through this trial, the team will be able to further evaluate the tool and work out what else needs to be done if it is rolled out on a national scale."
The team have said the new pregnancy screening has not proven to have a direct impact on reducing maternal mortality rates. They added: "I would suggest that by using this kind of tool which places greater focus on ethnicity as a factor and understanding individual risks and creating personalised care, health outcomes for both mothers and babies will improve as a result. But there still needs to be a significant increase in research, and attention paid by health policy makers, to properly understand and address disparities in maternal death."
The government expects to halve the rate of stillbirths and maternal deaths in half, by 2025.
Written by Renee Washington
Follow Renee on Twitter and Instagram