New center will tackle racial disparities in maternal health

Woman who just gave birth with her infant in the hospital.

In January, the University of Pennsylvania became home to the inaugural March of Dimes Research Center for Advancing Maternal Health Equity. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Howell, MD, MPPchair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Perelman School of Medicine, the center will leverage Penn’s research, technology, and partnerships to address racial disparities in maternal health outcomes — both deaths and serious medical complications — in the United States.

Philadelphia’s pregnancy-related death rate is slightly higher than the national average, though it has declined in the last decade. A recent report from the Philadelphia Maternal Mortality Review Committee found that 80 percent of maternal deaths were among those who identified as Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Of those individuals, 80 percent were people who had identified social and structural barriers to health, such as mental health issues, substance use disorders, and lack of prenatal care.

The new center, modeled on March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers (Penn hosts one of the five centers worldwide), will build on Penn’s ongoing efforts in several ways. The center will facilitate basic, clinical, and policy research projects that develop and test maternal care models aimed at enhancing equity.

One of the projects is led by PRCCEH Center member Heather Burris, MD, MPH on whether delivering postpartum care in the NICU could improve outcomes for at-risk parents.

Read the full article by Christina Hernandez Sherwood in Penn Medicine News

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