Addressing maternal health inequities: Insights from CDC's Wanda Barfield

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Wanda Barfield, MD, MPH, highlights significant racial disparities in maternal mortality and emphasizes the importance of collaborative efforts and data-driven approaches to improve maternal health outcomes in the United States.

In a recent interview, Wanda Barfield, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division of Reproductive Health, discussed the state of maternal care in the United States.

According to Barfield, maternal health is a pressing global issue with significant inequities. The risk of pregnancy-related mortality is increased 3-fold in Black women and 2-fold in Alaskan Native women compared to their White counterparts. However, many pregnancy-related mortalities are preventable through access to appropriate care.
The CDC has taken multiple steps to improve maternal health, including data and surveillance. The Maternal Mortality Review Committees are state-based review committees that gather data related to maternal mortalities, working together to create a common language called the Maternal Mortality Review Information Application (MMRIA).

MMRIA allows providers to quickly understand factors surrounding a person’s life and death. Using the data, providers can determine issues impacting disparities and causes of mortality from pregnancy to up to a year after delivery.

Barfield noted that improving maternal care in the United States is a collective effort. Current challenges such as inequities are systemic, indicating factors broader than an individual provider. However, perinatal quality collaboratives allow providers to come together to improve the quality and ensure equity in care.

Providers can also participate in the Hear Her campaign. “This campaign focuses on urgent maternal warning signs,” Barfield said. “And these warning signs may be concerns that are expressed by mothers, and it’s helpful for all of us to help identify these warning signs and make sure that people are getting the care that they need as soon as possible.”

Additionally, the Hear Her campaign includes information about multiple populations, with focus provided to Black and Alaskan Native mothers experiencing pregnancy related complications. Barfield concluded by stating all providers have a role to play in preventing pregnancy related deaths, and recommended resources available on the CDC website.

The Hear Her campaign is in collaboration with Merck for Mothers, and its website can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/hearher/index.html.

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