Midwife Elsie Gayle and her team hosted a groundbreaking one day conference in September 2019 for international research and knowledge exchange on Black maternal and perinatal mortality.
The keynote speakers were Professor Dorothy Roberts JD and Midwife Jenny Joseph whose works have reduced maternal and perinatal deaths in vulnerable women in the US. They offered ways in which UK midwives can learn from international approaches. They have, individually, focussed on a deep understanding of the complex issues and on creating robust and sustainable models of maternity care. Where practised, their works have supported significant and insightful improvements to the lives of Black mothers and their babies in the USA.
The conference (attended by Black women users of maternity services, midwives, researchers and health and social care professionals) became a forum for the voices and experiences of Black women service users to be heard. Factors which will bring about change in maternity outcomes for Black mothers and babies were presented, which can begin to be embedded into practice.
Response to the conference was very positive. Elsie commented that:
Mothers, midwives and allies were supported to come together to have difficult conversations about our rising mortalities.
The ‘Black Mums Matter’ movement is already planning its next steps to tackle the inequalities in maternal and perinatal outcomes. Jennie Joseph spoke of the need for midwives to continue to:
connect and work in solidarity and with purpose. ELIMINATION of racial disparities in maternal child health is the goal- nothing else is acceptable. Watch this space!
For more information about the resulting actions, see the Midwifery Conversations website
The conference was supported by an Iolanthe/RCM Jean Davies Award and was held on 23 September 2019 at the Open University in London, Camden.
Further information about the conference and the issues it sought to address
Elsie's commitment to the issues examined in the conference arise from her own personal and professional experience of maternity care as a woman of African descent.
In 2017 UK Maternal mortality was 8.76 deaths per 100, 000 (MBRRACE-UK, 2017). While there had been little or no change in overall maternal mortality in the UK, between 2010-12 and 2013-15; and 2014 -16, these figures hides stark differences in specific mortality rates. In Black women, maternity mortality has risen between 2010-12 and 2013-15. The relative risk of maternal death amongst Black women was 3.03 times greater than for white women in 2010-12 and rose to 4.28 times greater in 2013-15 (MBRRACE-UK, 2017).
Further to this there has yet been another rise in Black mothers' mortality. They are now 5 times more likely to die than their white counterparts during the childbearing year; 40 deaths /100,00 births as compared with white mothers who are at 8/100,00 and asian mothers at 15/100,000 births (MBRRACE, 2018).
Urgent action is needed to reduce maternal mortality in Black women in the UK.
The detriment extends to Black babies, who according to ONS data, have a 121% increased risk for stillbirth and are 50% more likely to suffer neonatal death compared to white babies (ONS 2016).