Pregnant stomach with a bow wrapped around

Saving Lives Through Better Maternal Health

Did you know that women in Detroit die of pregnancy-related causes at three times the national rate?

Detroit has the highest maternal death rate of any major U.S. city — higher than many developing countries, including Libya, Uruguay and Vietnam.

Poverty, along with uncontrolled chronic health conditions that are more common in African-American women, are to blame, said Dr. Patricia Ferguson, a board-certified OB/GYN and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Minority women have higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, Ferguson added. “At least half of these deaths are preventable,” she said. “Poverty deprives low-income women of health insurance and access to health care. Detroit has more people living under the poverty line — 42 percent — than any major city in America.”

The social determinants of health attached to poverty — such as housing stability, lack of transportation, access to nutritious food, and access to health care and insurance — also play a role.

These disparities “create a perpetual slippery slope, with no way up until we determine how to break the cycle,” Dr. Ferguson said. “While there are individuals who are able to break out of the cycle, the question is, how do we impact the community as a whole?”

Even when all social determinants are taken out of the equation, African-American women still have three to four times the incidence of maternal mortality. Studies have shown that a major contributor is the implicit bias of health care professionals.

“We all need to step back and examine our personal biases and become more sensitive to how they may impact our decision-making,” Dr. Ferguson said. “An important first step would be to look through a lens of empathy and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.”

In addition, there’s hope in the form of the MI Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (MI AIM). Dr. Ferguson represents Blue Cross on the Michigan AIM executive committee. MI AIM is dedicated to ensuring that women in Michigan have timely access to safe, quality health care in pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Social determinants of health

Photo Credit: Torsten Mangner

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