November 30, 2017

This nonprofit is helping to reduce black maternal and infant mortality

National Birth Equity Collaborative wants to ensure that every black infant will celebrate a healthy first birthday

The National Birth Equity Collaborative aims to reduce Black maternal and infant mortality through research, family-centered collaboration, and advocacy. Photo by Barbara Alçada via Unsplash

The United States is the only developed country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. Black women in the U.S. die at 3 to 4 times the rate of white women. Black babies die at 2 times the rate of their white counterparts. With clear evidence of this inequity, this is an urgent public health and human rights issue. As a black woman from the Deep South who is an obstetrician and a mother, my strong desire to end this inequity is amplified every time I look into the faces of my daughter and my patients. It was with this understanding that I created the National Birth Equity Collaborative in 2015.

In this great nation, our wealth was built upon the belief of a racial hierarchy. The belief that human value can be graded by the color of our skin was imbedded in our government, scientific community, and social society since very early in our nation’s history. From abolishing slavery, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Era and now our current Black Lives Matter movement, we have made steady but slow progress dismantling the devaluation of black women. We also know that with every advance there has always been a backlash.

Poverty is a salient issue that was constructed to be tied to race in the U.S., so unfortunately race still matters. As a black mother, I cannot buy or educate my way out of dying at 3 to 4 times the rate of a white mother. Maternal and infant mortality rates persist regardless of our class or education status. A white woman with a less than a high school education has a better chance to live in childbirth than a black woman with a college degree. Racism is the risk factor, not black skin.

Maternal and infant mortality extends beyond the period of pregnancy or birth. Nine months of prenatal care cannot counter underlying social determinants of health inequities in housing, political participation, transportation, education, food, environmental conditions, and economic security; all of which have racism, classism, and gender oppression as their root causes.

In order to achieve our vision of every black infant celebrating a healthy first birthday with their family, we must move research and policy while focusing on parents and the knowledge they bring. We know that while programs are important, without a culture and policy shift that values all members of our society, we will not reach equity.

As the founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative I am excited about the many people and organizations that we get the opportunity to work with people who are committed to this shift. Hospitals, state and local health departments, and community organizations are no longer willing to accept that members of our community are destined to die at larger rates of others. This commitment to centering the most marginalized in our community will improve life for all. No longer will black mothers and babies be the canary in the coal mine. All of us deserve better.

Dr. Joia Adele Crear-Perry

Founder of National Birth Equity Collaborative

Dr. Crear-Perry is the Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. Most recently, she addressed the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urge a human rights framework to improve maternal mortality. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of the Birthing Project, Director of Women’s and Children’s Services at Jefferson Community Healthcare Center and as the Director of Clinical Services for the City of New Orleans Health Department where she was responsible for four facilities that provided health care for the homeless, pediatric, WIC, and gynecologic services within the New Orleans clinical service area.

After receiving her bachelor’s trainings at Princeton University and Xavier University, Dr. Crear-Perry completed her medical degree at Louisiana State University and her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. She was also recognized as a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

A proud recipient of the Congressional Black Caucus Healthcare Hero’s award, Dr. Crear-Perry currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Community Catalyst, National Medical Association, and the New Orleans African American Museum. She is married to Dr. Andre Perry and has three children: Jade, Carlos, and Robeson.