It’s been two years since NWA embarked on a number of initiatives to help address maternal mortality in the United States. In 2018, NWA launched the “NWA in the States” series to encourage further dialogue among WIC staff and community partners on how to elevate WIC’s role in the broader public health response to infant and maternal mortality. The series sought to mobilize WIC clinic staff in addressing these health issues, highlight promising local and statewide practices, and enhance WIC’s connections to coalitions and partnerships. Read more about the visits here: Ohio, Mississippi, Puerto Rico & USVI, and New Jersey. NWA also convened the Maternal Mortality Task Force, hosted a one-day maternal mortality conference, advocated for a variety of legislation such as the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018, and actively participated in the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM). This work coincided with NWA centering health equity in our work, which we define as the ability of all individuals and families to achieve optimal health, irrespective of their identity, race, ability or class.
We know that black women are disproportionately impacted by our nation’s maternal mortality crisis and early signs suggest that might also be the case with COVID-19. Mississippi, which has the largest percentage of African Americans in the country, is already noticing a gender disparity with “nearly 60 percent of people with COVID-19 and people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Mississippi being women.” The racial wealth gap and black women’s overrepresentation in low wage jobs make them more vulnerable to economic turmoil during the public health crisis. Hospital visitation restrictions are also eliminating critical sources of support for black women during labor and delivery. This includes doulas, family members, friends, and other support persons, which is very concerning given that black women already fare much worse than other groups in regards to maternal mortality and near misses.
The third annual Black Maternal Health Week is an opportune time for WIC and the nation at large to lift up black women and center their voices and experiences. The national campaign, founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, takes place every year from April 11-17. It is intended to be a week of awareness, activism, and community building. Across the country, WIC agencies are currently grappling with COVID-19 and social distancing requirements that necessitate new approaches to serving WIC participants through new technologies and program innovations. It’s also an ideal time to center health equity in the evolving restructuring of the WIC program to ensure all individuals and families have the ability to achieve optimal health, including black mothers and families.