Difference between chance of ethnic minority women and white women dying due to pregnancy-related complications is shocking – Dr Gwenetta Curry

This week we celebrated International Women’s Day and I would like to take this time to highlight women’s health.
Women's voices must be heard to improve maternity care (Picture: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)Women's voices must be heard to improve maternity care (Picture: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Women's voices must be heard to improve maternity care (Picture: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

In August last year, Scotland became the first country in the UK to have a women’s health plan that outlines changes in areas of menopause, heart health, and menstrual health, including endometriosis and sexual health.

One of the priorities is to reduce waiting times for the diagnosis of endometriosis from over eight years to less than 12 months and improve the experience of women who visit their GP with menstrual problems.

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Many women have been forced to suffer the pain of endometriosis in silence as they consistently go undiagnosed. The UK government's ‘vision for women’s health’ strategy put out a call for evidence and received 100,000 responses.

It revealed that eight out of ten women felt that they were not listened to by healthcare professionals. Nearly two in three respondents with a health condition felt that they were not supported by services available for their condition. Over half of the respondents also said they felt uncomfortable talking about health issues within their workplace.

Employers should create an environment where women can openly express their health concerns without risking losing their occupations. Targeted efforts to allow women’s pain to be acknowledged and taken seriously earlier will improve their overall quality of life.

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Maternal health is another area that has garnered more attention over the last decade. According to a report by Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries UK, ethnic minority women experience a disproportionate rate of death due to pregnancy-related complications.

Between the years 2016-2018, 566 women died during or up to a year after pregnancy. Asian women were twice as likely to die as white women, mixed ethnicity women were three times more likely to die, and Black women were four times as likely to die.

The campaign group Five X More has launched a joint plan with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to address racial disparities in maternity care. Five X More has done an amazing job in bringing attention to the disproportionate mortality rate of Black pregnant women.

The campaign developed five actions for healthcare professionals to adopt to drive change: listen, remove any barriers to communication, provide clear information, provide access to detailed documentation, and be a champion by supporting research and innovation in hospitals to help end the disparity in maternity outcomes. These actions are intended to improve the quality of care that physicians provide to their patients in maternal care.

The published women’s health plan will ensure maternity departments have facilities that are dedicated to women who are experiencing unexpected pregnancy complications. Although dedicated facilities will help to provide more focused care, it will be important to address the various biases that exist as an obstacle to quality care.

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In both cases of endometriosis and maternal health, women’s voices have been ignored and this has resulted in a disproportionate amount of suffering and deaths that were preventable.

The silencing of a woman by any healthcare professional is an issue that must be prioritised to ensure everyone receives equitable care regardless of their sex, race, or gender.

Dr Gwenetta Curry is an Edinburgh University lecturer on race, ethnicity and health

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