There are ongoing conversations about the state of Black maternal mortality in the United States, seeing as the rate is considerably high. A $6 million Temple University study is attempting to explore the issue and reduce Black mortality by addressing heart disease. The study, which will take place over the course of five years in Philadelphia, has goals of reducing the mortality rate for Black women during and after pregnancy.
“We have a unique opportunity with this study to help shift the narrative for Black urban people in Philadelphia,” said Saleemah McNeil, co-principal investigator for the study.
McNeil is the program director of the Maternal Wellness Village, partnering with Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine on the study. The Maternal Wellness Village is a community of birth workers such as doulas, therapists, lactation consultants, nurses, and more who provide support and services to the African diaspora to help reduce black maternal mortality.
The partnership for the study will be funded by a $6 million grant from the DC-based Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and it will compare two different approaches to treating heart disease risk factors. As it relates to the study structure, Black women from varying backgrounds will contribute to shaping it. The research team comprises faculty and staff from Temple’s Center for Urban Bioethics and the Departments of Obstetrics & Reproductive Sciences, Cardiology, and Clinical Sciences, along with colleagues at Drexel, Jefferson, and Duke.
So far, we know the study will enroll 432 patients at faculty physicians’ practices this month and examine their heart health. The reason is, half of Black women have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association, and Black women are 60% more likely to have high blood pressure than white women.
The study will explore the relationship between cardiovascular risk and doula care. The researchers also plan to have ongoing text communication with Black birthing women to encourage healthy nutrition, physical activity, and home blood pressure self-monitoring.
“Maybe there are some unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms that [Black women] have developed,” said community advisory board Hanan Abdul-Hameed, a doula and a mom.
Abdul-Hameed helped inform some of the questions that will be used in the text communication with patients. “Have you moved your body for 30 minutes today?” is an example of one of those questions.
Shifting women to healthy habits is a gradual process, she added, “You can’t just take it all away.”
Some study participants will receive seven to eight visits with a doula after giving birth to help them transition back to primary care.
According to the research team, the study wants to see whether these additional forms of support leads to lower blood pressure, treats social isolation and depression, and decrease experiences of racism and/or mistreatment in maternity care.
In addition, as a part of the study, all Temple University Hospital and medical personnel will receive training to reduce patients’ experiences of racism or mistreatment.
This effort to reduce the Black mortality rate is timely, considering the CDC tells us the maternal mortality rate is three times higher for Black women than for white women.
“No one should die, and the race difference in the mortality rate is really disturbing,” said Sharon J. Herring, the study’s co-principal investigator and director of the Katz School’s Program for Maternal Health Equity.
“Sadly, we know that health care in the United States is built on racist principles,” Herring said. “I wish that it wasn’t… These are really big systems to break apart.”