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Bold Leadership is Critical to Improve Black Maternal Health

In honor of Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17, 2022), Ready, Set, Soar Ohio has invited local Black-led organizations and organizations committed to advancing health equity to participate in a blog series sharing how their work supports Black maternal health and improves outcomes for Black mothers.

Founded and led by Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Black Maternal Health Week is a week of awareness and community building intended to deepen the national conversation about Black maternal health in the United States; amplify community-driven policy, research, and care solutions; center the voices of Black mothers, women, families, and stakeholders; and more.

The blog featured below was written by Lisa Amlung Holloway, Director of Maternal Infant Health at March of Dimes.

"She went to the hospital to have her baby. Now her husband is raising 2 kids alone." -ABC News

"Beyoncé, Serena Williams open up about potentially fatal childbirths, a problem especially for black mothers" -The Washington Post

These heartbreaking headlines are becoming more frequent as maternal death in the United States continues to rise, making our country one of the most dangerous to give birth. Every 12 hours in America, a woman dies from pregnancy-related causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are considered preventable, which represents an opportunity to save a mother’s life, a chance to prevent a baby from growing up without his or her mother.

New data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that maternal mortality for the U.S. in 2020 increased to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, an 18% increase over 2019 and a nearly 37% increase since 2018. Data also shows that alarming disparities are increasing. Between 2018 and 2020, maternal mortality rates among Black women rose 48%, compared to a 28% increase among white women. Black women are now about 3 times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy.

After more than 20 years working to stop infant deaths in Ohio with disappointing results, attention has recently become more stringently focused on preventing maternal deaths. Although much of the work to prevent infant death has focused on mom’s health before and during pregnancy, attention to maternal health is being elevated as data is more available and deeper analysis has become a priority.

Ohio is following the national trend of heightened interest in this area with leadership provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), March of Dimes, and others. Answering the call to action, engaged, passionate, and smart people are fighting to strengthen clinical services to improve perinatal care, better meet social needs and build community support for families. Research is also ongoing to find new solutions and interventions. All of this important work must continue. However, despite what we think are our best efforts, we are at a critical point where we must ask ourselves as a nation, as a state, and as individuals: What is missing?

First, equity must be our goal. It is well accepted that one’s personal health status is a result of behaviors and choices as well as social and environmental influences, and many programs are addressing these. However, research points to lifelong and intergenerational unequal opportunity and treatment as a basis for disparities in health outcomes and in other areas which impact health like economic status, educational attainment, incarceration rates, and others. There is not a clinical intervention or public awareness campaign that can “fix” this. This will require a public health workforce that is willing to lead with a focus on achieving equity and a nation that is ready to respond.

Secondly, bold leadership is needed. Years ago, while lecturing to a college class, I was asked if I thought one could work in public health if their personal ideals conflicted or if they were not passionately aligned with the practice or initiative that they were promoting. At the time I gave an insufficient answer that I thought it was possible because it was, in fact, work based on science and public health practices that evolved over time and the job of the public health worker was simply to implement.

Today, my answer would be entirely different. As we strive for equity, those who wholeheartedly desire achieving equity on all levels must lead. They must possess a willingness to explore one’s personal understanding, feelings, and a desire to engage others around tough, complex issues that are responsible for long-standing divisiveness among Americans. Issues including personal privilege, opportunity, social and systemic inequities, and racism. We must care a lot to be willing to go there, not just professionally, but in our personal circles including with our friends and families. We must be willing to lead with our voices and actions and invite others to join us.

So, I urge you to reflect on your commitment to equity and your role. Reach out differently, speak louder, and engage more. Be bold and unyielding and most importantly, brave. Success depends on our ability to unite as many people as possible. March of Dimes’ vision is that every baby is healthy regardless of birth place, economic status, sex, or race. We are bringing people together to save mothers and babies. We invite you to join us.

Learn more about March of Dimes at

As Maternal and Infant Health Initiatives Director for the March of Dimes, Lisa Amlung Holloway oversees all program and advocacy activities in Ohio including the management of the community grants, professional education, and strategic mission investment planning and implementation. Lisa also collaborates with many partners including Ohio Council to Advance Maternal Health, Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality, First Year Cleveland, Cradle Cincinnati, Fetal and Infant Mortality Review and Perinatal Community Action Team, OPQC (Ohio Perinatal Quality Collaborative), and others. Lisa has a BS in Nuclear Medicine Technology from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from Xavier University and has worked in the maternal child space for 25 years.


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