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Tackling Maternal Mortality

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 25, 2019) - The number of women who die during childbirth is on the rise across the country, and a School of Public Health (SPH) team has joined the many forces working to help change that course in New York.

The SPH-based Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Program, led by Christine Bozlak and Rachel de Long, was awarded $150,000 from the New York State Legislature this past year to fund research and statewide education on maternal mortality.

Sonogram picture
In New York, approximately 19 out of every 100,000 women died from complications related to childbirth from 2012-2016. Faculty from the School of Public Health are part of the movement working to decrease that number in the future.

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States has been a notable outlier in the steady decline of maternal mortality seen in other parts of the world. While the rate of death related to pregnancy has declined in Canada, the United Kingdom and other developed nations, the rate has increased in the United States, giving it the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. In New York, approximately 19 out of every 100,000 women died from complications related to childbirth from 2012-2016 according to the New York State Department of Health (DOH). Moreover, maternal death rates are disproportionately high among black women both in New York and nationally, noted de Long and Bozlak.

“There’s a real health disparity component at play here – black women in New York are three to four times more likely to die from causes related to pregnancy compared to white women,” said Bozlak, an associate professor.

Both health care and public health communities have mobilized to respond to these alarming trends, with efforts spanning public health agencies, professional medical organizations, community-based organizations, researchers and others, Bozlak and de Long note. In 2018, Governor Cuomo created the Taskforce on Maternal Mortality and Disparate Racial Outcomes as part of a multi-pronged effort to reduce maternal mortality and racial disparities and has committed $8M over two years in the 2019-2020 Executive Budget to fund these important initiatives. Additionally, the state senate has addressed maternal health as part of a larger legislative Women’s Health Initiative, including the $150,000 award to the MCH program at SPH to help explore and address the issue.

Bozlak and de Long, a clinical associate professor, partnered with the SPH-based Center for Public Health Continuing Education and the DOH’s Division of Family Health to produce a special edition of Public Health Live! that was webcast to almost 1,000 health professionals and other participants. The webcast focused on the importance of engaging women and families from affected communities in order to develop initiatives, community approaches and changes to clinical systems that are responsive to their concerns – including concerns about bias and racism. It featured participants from recent community listening sessions held with women across New York as part of the Governor’s Task Force.

“A key component of this Public Health Live! was listening to community members about their experiences and ideas,” said de Long. “The more health care and public health professionals are aware of the concerns being voiced by women of color, and the more we all learn about efforts to be responsive to those concerns, the better we can address this devastating problem in New York and nationally.”

The project team also used the funding to support SPH faculty research on maternal health, and to enhance an array of prevention activities already underway in New York to promote women’s health and reduce maternal mortality. In the spring semester, six graduate students worked directly with DOH to gather and analyze data on maternal deaths, implement collaborative projects to improve the quality of care in birthing hospitals and support community-based public health prevention initiatives serving low-income women and infants.

Moving forward, the MCH Program will continue to partner with DOH and other key stakeholders to support women’s health while also contributing to the development of the next generation of public health professionals.

“This emerging generation of the MCH workforce is critical to addressing these pressing MCH issues, such as maternal mortality, and the University at Albany is poised to be a leader in their professional development,” said Bozlak.

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