Women MPs addressed maternal mortality rates in black women on the 19th of April 2021 when Catherine McKinnell MP introduced a petition to Parliament as “one of the starkest examples of racial health inequalities in this country”.
The main objective of the debate came from MPs Claudia Webbe, Arena Oppong-Asare and Bell Riberiro Addy calling for the government to set “a target to end the mortality gap between black, Asian and ethnic minority women and white women”.
However, Nadine Dorries, Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health said: “We cannot set targets until we know what we are trying to achieve through those targets and what we need to address.” Instead, Dorries said the government had commissioned the research unit in maternal and neonatal health and care at Oxford university to “undertake research into the disparities in the near misses, and to develop an English maternal morbidity outcome indicator”.
Nevertheless, the debate became a platform for black women to share their emotional lived experiences. Bell Riberiro Addy MP’s testimony included her own powerful pregnancy story: “I was admitted to the hospital with pre-eclampsia. My diagnosis was too late for any intervention. I was induced, and after something like 18 hours of labour, she was born, but she did not move, she did not cry, and there was no miracle. Black babies have a 50% increased risk of neonatal death, and a 121% increased risk of stillbirth, like my own daughter. With figures like that, I wonder how much of a chance she really had. We know this, and we have no target to end it.”
The figures Riberiro Addy refers to were published by the NHS in their ‘Targeted and Enhanced Midwifery-Led Continuity of Carer’ report.
The petition, which gained 187,519 signatures, was started in June 2020 by grassroots organisation FIVEXMORE. Mothers and social activists, Tinuke Awe and Clotilde Abe, started the charity when the MBRRACE UK 2020 report found black women were four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white women.
They responded to the debate with delight: “Yes, the target is to end this gap but the debate meant that black women were heard on a national level. We deserve to have our stories heard.”
FIVEXMORE have already decided their next course of action with the Black Maternal Health Pledge for MPs to sign. This is a pledge to keep the campaign going by speaking to local health regulators and black women in their constituency to keep the pressure on the government to close this gap.
Watch the full debate here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDS8vY6TGT8