By Christian Carter, BDO Assignment Reporter
Black babies in the United States are facing an uphill battle. We already know by reports that we’ve shared that Black women are more likely to die in childbirth and any other race. But now, new research has shown that Black babies, specifically newborn babies, are more likely to survive childbirth if they are cared for by Black doctors, and are three times more likely to die when looked after by White doctors.
But how can that be?
A new study’s results show the shocking racial disparities in human health can affect even the first hours of a person’s life.
Researchers from George Mason University analyzed data capturing 1.8 million hospital births in Florida for 23 years, between 1992 and 2015 for the new study, which was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, also known as PNAS.
The GMU researchers found without a doubt that when cared for by White physicians, Black newborns were about three times more likely to die in the hospital than white newborns.
But on the flip side, just in case you were wondering, CNN.com reported that the mortality rate for white babies was largely NOT affected by the doctor’s race. Well, isn’t that something?
“Strikingly, these effects appear to manifest more strongly in more complicated cases, and when hospitals deliver more Black newborns,” the authors wrote. “The findings suggest that Black physicians outperform their White colleagues when caring for Black newborns.”
So what’s behind this stark difference?
Is it because they don’t know how to care for black newborns?
Could it be that they are making too many cultural assumptions during the birthing process?
Or could it just be that they truly don’t care about Black babies?
While the authors of the study did not go into the reasoning behind the polarizing number, they did write: “Taken with this work, it gives warrant for hospitals and other care organizations to invest in efforts to reduce such biases and explore their connection to institutional racism.”
In all, more than 22,000 babies died before their first birthday in 2017, at a rate of 5.79 infant deaths per 1,000 births, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is 16% lower than in 2005 – when the country saw its most recent peak in infant mortality – but essentially unchanged from the rate in 2016.
But whose children are most likely to survive until their first birthday varies greatly. The infant mortality rate for black women’s babies was 10.97 in 2017 – nearly three times the rates among white, Asian and Hispanic women, which matches with the George Mason University findings – and nearly double the overall rate.
While more than a third of infant deaths were tied to preterm birth, when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and even though the preterm birth rate has fallen in recent years, African American women are more likely to give birth preterm, according to the CDC.
“Reducing racial disparities in newborn mortality will also require
raising awareness among physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators about the prevalence of racial and ethnic disparities,” the researchers added.
It’s already known that Black infants have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as white infants, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.
According to CNN.com, a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which covered the period between 2000 to 2017 and was published in June, found that Black infants still have more than twice the risk of dying as White infants.
To meaningfully improve the health of babies, the CDC says public health organizations, health care providers, community groups and other partners should work together to “address the social, behavioral, and health risk factors that contribute to infant mortality and affect birth outcomes.”