Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, but the sources of that disparity lie far beyond the delivery room. That’s why maternal health advocates are hosting events across the country this week to raise more consistent awareness about poor birth outcomes and establish policy changes to close the gap.

Joia Crear-Perry, MD, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, recently discussed the challenges of black maternal health during the kickoff forum for National Public Health Week.

In her remarks, she cited other similarly alarming health statistics: Black mothers who were college educated fare worse than women of all races who never finished high school. In fact, black mothers from the wealthiest neighborhoods do worse than white, Hispanic and Asian moms from the poorest.

Through her work, Crear-Perry champions birth equity, which is “the assurance of the conditions of optimal births for all people with a willingness to address racial and social inequalities in a sustained effort.” These include tackling a range of factors such as lack of educational opportunities, poor housing, inadequate health insurance, mass incarceration and lack of paid medical and family leave that disproportionately affect women of color.

While we’ve seen some progress addressing the health care needs of expectant mothers, she urged moving from a medical or biological approach to one that addresses the overwhelming social factors. Only then will we begin to make a lasting and equitable difference in maternal health outcomes.

“We don’t want people just to survive pregnancies,” Crear-Perry said. “We want them to thrive.”

To view Crear-Perry’s presentation and the entire NPHW Forum, visit

To learn about Black Maternal Health Week, April 11-17, 2019, visit