LONDON (Reuters) – The British government committed on Wednesday to tackling disparities in maternal mortality rates, saying it was “completely unacceptable” that pregnancy and birth were riskier for women from ethnic minorities than for white women.
Maternal deaths in Britain occur in fewer than 1 in 10,000 pregnancies, official data shows. From 2015 to 2017, 209 mothers died from pregnancy-related causes, out of more than 2.2 million women who gave birth in the United Kingdom.
While overall maternal mortality rates had fallen over the past decade, the government said, evidence pointed to a widening gap between women from different ethnic backgrounds.
It said Black British mothers were five times more likely than white mothers to die in pregnancy or within the first six weeks after childbirth.
“It’s completely unacceptable for women to experience greater risk of poor outcomes during their pregnancy, or after giving birth because of the colour of their skin,” said minister Nadine Dorries, whose portfolio includes patient safety.
The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes was also three times higher for mothers of mixed ethnicity than for white mothers, and twice as high for women of Asian ethnicity.
Women from all ethnic minorities were also at greater risk than their white counterparts of their pregnancies resulting in a pre-term birth, stillbirth, neonatal death or a baby born with low birth weight.
Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch was meeting academics, public health experts and regional health service managers on Wednesday to discuss what more could be done to reduce the disparities.
The government said it had already taken steps such as changing procedures to ensure greater continuity of care from a midwife for women from ethnic minorities during pregnancy, birth and the period after birth.
The issue of health disparities between different ethnic groups in Britain has come to the fore due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black and Asian people in England are up to 50% more likely to die after becoming infected with the virus, according to an official study.