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Experts ‘not surprised’ by England’s stark maternal health disparities

Black women have historically faced racism and mistreatment at the hands of medical professionals, campaigners have said

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Experts have said they are not surprised by England’s “stark” maternal health disparities after a new report has shed light on the reality many Black mothers across the nation are facing.

An analysis conducted by the Guardian found that Black women are up to six times more likely to experience some of the most serious birth complications during hospital delivery across England than their white counterparts.

Black women made up 26 per cent of the women who experienced the birth complication preeclampsia superimposed on chronic hypertension during delivery, the report showed, despite making up just five per cent of all deliveries across England.

However, the findings have come as no surprise to experts who said Black women and women of colour had historically faced racism and mistreatment at the hands of medical professionals.

“The Guardian’s analysis, which starkly highlights the severe disparities in birth complications amongst Black women, is deeply concerning, yet sadly predictable,” Agnes Agyepong, maternal health advocate and founder of Global Black Maternal Health, told Femtech World.

“Systemic and structural issues, such as disparities in healthcare access, quality of care, and exacerbated underlying chronic conditions due to socio-economic and environmental factors, play a significant role. These barriers mean that when Black women voice their concerns early on, they are often not heard, leading to delayed or less effective antenatal care and poorer outcomes.”

Without tackling these structural inequities, and without taking a biopsychosocial approach to maternity care, any long-term structural change remains a distant hope, Agyepong said.

Emily Butterworth, lead midwife at Lansinoh, said the “unfortunate reality” is that across England women’s ethnic background and socioeconomic status are strongly related to their likelihood of experiencing birth complications.

“To make pregnancy and birth safer we need a multifaceted approach, not only by midwives and obstetricians but also by public health professionals and politicians,” she explained.

“It is vital that we are raising awareness and training not only midwives and maternity professionals, but any health professionals who are caring for women before pregnancy and after pregnancy on cultural competency, and looking at ways we can eliminate implicit bias racial stereotyping.”

As part of efforts to reduce birth complications for minority groups and improve maternity care for all, Butterworth said we must address the roles of racism and discrimination in healthcare.

“Making birth safer for all will only be realistically achieved if we address the disparities in maternal health across the spectra of socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.

Black women in the UK are almost four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts, while black babies are twice as likely to be stillborn.

Emma Jarvis, founder and CEO of pregnancy subscription service Dearbump, said this is due to the fact that Black women are less likely to seek support and less likely to be offered treatment.

“If you are treated poorly and your pain is not taken seriously you lose faith and trust in the system, and it’s hard to break that cycle.

“There needs to be a conscious effort from healthcare providers, policy makers and women’s health organisations, to proactively engage with and check in with Black mothers, and to be aware of any unconscious biases that might exist and recognise the heightened risk they face in maternal outcomes.”

Empowering Black and Brown women in healthcare settings should be a priority, said Wendy Powell, founder and CEO of maternal pelvic health platform MUTU System.

“Black and Brown women experience disproportionate adverse birth outcomes due to ingrained prejudices dictating their treatment and care levels,” Powell told Femtech World.

“However, it’s crucial to recognise the presence of implicit biases and systemic racism within healthcare systems and create environments where Black and Brown women’s voices are heard.

“By challenging bias and advocating for change, we can amplify the voices of marginalised communities and work towards a healthcare system that serves everyone.”

Dr Ranee Thakar, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, called on the government to set a definitive target to eliminate racial disparities in maternal deaths.

“Whilst the college continues to deliver quality improvement programmes in maternity, it is crucial that the government commits to sufficient, long-term NHS investment for staff recruitment, retention and training, which underpins safe and compassionate care,” she said.

“We are also calling for the government to commit to a funded, time-limited target to end the higher risk of maternal mortality among Black, Asian and ethnic minority women, and for women living in more deprived area.”

Bliss, the UK’s charity for babies born premature or sick, called for more research into maternal morbidity and preterm birth.

“We know that the higher rates of birth complications for Black and Asian women are likely to be just one of the reasons they experience higher rates of preterm birth and are therefore more likely to have a baby admitted to neonatal care,” Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said.

“This is an unacceptable disparity, yet we still know so little about the reasons underlying these serious inequities in care. Bliss would like to see more research funded which specifically looks at these issues to inform improvements in care for both pregnant women and new-born babies from the Black and Asian community.

“We also urge health services and professional bodies to ensure that all maternity and neonatal health professionals have access to training and guidance that will specifically enable them to support Black and Asian parents and their babies, to stop them being unfairly and avoidably disadvantaged by current practice, and to ensure every baby has the best chance of survival and quality of life.”

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Labcorp launches screening test to identify preeclampsia risk sooner

The new screening tool is capable of assessing the risk of preeclampsia sooner, the test maker says

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Labcorp has launched a screening test that can assess the risk of preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure disorder that can develop during pregnancy or postpartum and is a leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Roughly one in 25 pregnancies in the US is affected by preeclampsia, which poses an even greater risk for non-Hispanic black women, who experience the condition at a 60 per cent higher rate compared to white women.

In January, Labcorp announced the launch and availability of an FDA-cleared blood test for risk assessment and clinical management of severe preeclampsia during the second and third trimesters.

The first trimester test uses four early pregnancy biomarkers to provide a risk assessment with up to 90 per cent sensitivity, nearly twice the sensitivity of assessing typical maternal history or biophysical factors alone.

According to Labcorp, the test results provide risk identification earlier than traditional symptoms, such as hypertension or protein in the urine, which tend to develop around 20 weeks gestation.

Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, said: “Our organisation celebrates this innovative new test offering.

“Research shows that patients and providers want access to more tools that better predict progression to preeclampsia, especially for those patients with low- to average-risk or those with first-time pregnancies for whom there is some uncertainty.”

Dr Brian Caveney, chief medical and scientific officer at Labcorp, added: “Labcorp is committed to advancing maternal and foetal health through innovative diagnostic and screening solutions.

“This new first trimester blood test is another significant milestone in our mission to improve health and improve lives. By giving healthcare providers another tool to assess preeclampsia risk in their pregnant patients with objective biomarkers, we’re helping to advance prenatal care and improve outcomes for mothers and their babies.”

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People with HIV can be sperm and egg donors

A change in law will allow people with non-transmissible HIV in the UK to donate gametes to partners

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Same-sex couples with non-transmissible HIV will now be able to donate eggs or sperm and become parents.

People with HIV will able to donate their sperm or eggs to their partners, as the law in the UK is updated.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act will be amended via a statutory instrument to allow people with non-transmissible HIV – with a viral load low enough not to pass on – to donate eggs or sperm, known as gametes, as part of fertility treatment to their partners.

Under current rules on IVF, only a male partner with HIV can give their sperm to their female partner and not to anyone else.

The law change will also eliminate extra screening costs for female same-sex couples undertaking reciprocal IVF treatment.

The government says this is part of wider work to improve access to IVF for everyone and ensure same-sex couples have the same rights as a man and woman when trying to conceive.

“These changes will allow more people to fulfil their dream of becoming parents,” said UK health minister, Maria Caulfield.

“We have changed the law to ensure equality for people living with HIV when accessing IVF, allowing them to donate their eggs and sperm.

“In addition, the change will allow female same-sex couples to access IVF with no extra screening costs, the same as heterosexual couples.”

She added: “These changes will help create a fairer system by removing barriers to accessing fertility care as we have set out in the Women’s Health Strategy.”

The changes to the law will allow people with HIV to donate their gametes to family, friends and known recipients.

The regulations include an updated definition of partner donation to enable female same-sex couples wishing to donate eggs to each other to undergo the same testing requirements as heterosexual couples.

Under current rules, female same-sex couples hoping to conceive via reciprocal IVF must first go through screening for syphilis and genetic screening, such as cystic fibrosis, which can cost over £1,000, while heterosexual couples do not need to undergo this screening.

Julia Chain, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said: “The HFEA welcomes the news that legislation regarding partner donation in relation to reciprocal IVF, and gamete donation from those who have HIV with an undetectable viral load, has now been proposed in Parliament.

“Fertility treatment is helping more people than ever to create their family, and everyone undergoing fertility treatment should be treated fairly.

“For known donation from individuals with undetectable HIV, we anticipate that the first clinics may be able to begin to offer this treatment around 3 months following a change in the law.

“We encourage any patients or donors who may be affected by these changes to visit the HFEA website to find out free and impartial information, including about how to choose a fertility clinic.”

Minister for equalities, Stuart Andrew MP, added: “Treatment for HIV has improved significantly, saving countless lives, but the stigma surrounding it persists – a stigma which often prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment.

“These changes will help to reduce that stigma, making it clear that people with HIV can live full and happy lives. I am delighted by these changes which will enable more people to experience the joy of becoming parents.”

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Portfolia invests total of US$65m into women’s health companies

The platform has invested in 47 femtech start-ups to date

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Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia

The US venture investing platform Portfolia has announced it has invested a total of US$65m into women’s health companies and solutions.

Portfolia aims to create, educate and support the largest community of women investors in the world.

The company says it was amongst the first to recognise the “immense” potential of women’s wealth, with women’s health at the forefront.

To date, Portfolia has made investments in 112 companies with 47 of those women’s health companies being femtech and active aging specific.

Some of these include Madison Reed, Maven, Everly Health, Bone Health, Veana, Your Choice, Future Family, Willow, Hey Jane, Lighthouse Pharma, L-Nutra and JoyLux.

The total companies Portfolia has invested in are estimated to serve over 102 million customers in 115 countries worldwide.

These companies have a combined value of over US$17bn, with over US$1bn in revenue and 10,000 employees worldwide.

According to Portfolia, almost 70 per cent of these businesses are led by female CEOs, and 49 per cent are led by BIPOC individuals.

“At Portfolia, we believe in the power of activating our wealth for returns and impact,” said Trish Costello, founder and CEO of Portfolia.

“Today, women in the United States have unprecedented access to wealth – with over US$25tn of wealth in the US and almost 50 per cent of it owned by women.

“This wealth is power – power to create financial change and invest in the companies and businesses that matter to us and meet our needs/desires.”

She added: “Our commitment goes beyond traditional venture capital – we’re pioneering change, saving lives, and creating opportunities for all, while creating the most powerful community of women investors globally, and the first to activate our wealth to shape the future of healthcare.”

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