By: Meghan Sorensen
On September 12, mothers, mayors, doctors, doulas, and midwives alike came together at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to discuss maternal and prenatal health. They also discussed the general health of women in the city’s communities.
“Many of our problems can be solved with political will and consistent involvement,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in her opening speech. It is with determination and the teamwork of a sisterhood that she believes can truly bring about change.
Termed the Maternal & Infant Health Summit, Mayor Bowser brought doctors, medical professions, and other mayors of America together to start a conversation about women’s health
“Great things are going on today in the District of Columbia. We’re focusing on our mothers and our infants and … that makes me feel good,” a summit volunteer said.
Along with speeches and discussions on stage, hospitals, daycares, clinics, and other services set up booths ready to talk to and assist local families. Each summit attendee received pamphlets with resources and information in the hope that it could bridge the gap in giving support to those who desperately need it.
“Sponsoring Mayor Bowser’s Maternal and Infant Health Summit offered a fantastic opportunity for Sibley to help further this vital cause by bringing it front and center.
We are truly hopeful this Summit heralds more thoughtful conversations and collaboration. And [we] look forward in continuing to partner with the Mayor and the District’s medical community in our commitment to improve the health of every family we serve,” said a representative from Sibley Memorial Hospital.
In Washington D.C., 57% of infant deaths occur during the first seven days of the child’s life. The city’s infant mortality rate is 7.3 for every 1,000 births, above national average.
Many think that it’s Washington D.C.’s number of African-American citizens that’s making the difference. In fact, African-American mothers experience twice the number of preterm births that white mothers do. This is thought to be due to the systematic poverty that tends to affect African-American communities.
D.C.’s Department of Health’s 2018 Perinatal Health and Infant Mortality Report says, “[T]he infant mortality rate was significantly higher for infants of non-Hispanic black mothers (11.49 per 1,000 live births) compared to infants of Hispanic mothers (5.33 per 1,000 live births) and infants of non-Hispanic white mothers (2.55 per 1,000 live births).” The statistics alone are simply staggering.
Furthermore, the mayors in attendance agreed that in order for progress to be made, not only do the right resources have to be in place, but the people who will benefit from those resources most need to seek them out.
Although 97% of Washington D.C.’s population is covered under health insurance, there has not been much progress in the city’s mortality rate. Mayor Bowser suggested that home nurses must go to families that need support after childbirth. That gives babies the best chance at survival at the beginning of their lives.
Moreover, Dr. Michael Lu was among the medical professionals present at the Maternal & Infant Summit. He shared his personal opinions about this weakness within the Capital.
“We can always tell how healthy a community or a society is by its infant mortality rate … Babies are a lot more vulnerable than grownups, so whatever is harming the health of the community is gonna show up first in the infant mortality statistics. We’re the richest nation on earth and yet we have one of the highest infant mortality rates. What does that say about the health of our nation?”
Lu was the director of the federal Maternal and Child Health Administration during the Obama Administration whose work has been featured on HMHB.org. He launched initiatives to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Additionally, he was a professor of obstetrics-gynecology at UCLA, and he and is currently a senior associate dean and a professor at George Washington University.
LaQuandra Nesbitt, the director of D.C.’s Department of Health, said, “We got Medicaid expanded up to age 21 and for all pregnant women but that’s something that should not have as a result of a crisis. Those are things that we should have without a crisis. Why do we have to wait for these kinds of issues before we want to give good healthcare and access to healthcare to women?”
Nesbitt’s hometown is Flint, Michigan, where the water was not safe to drink from 2014 to 2017. She is well aware of the frustration when change does not come about without a crisis to prelude it.
Due to Mayor Bowser’s Maternal & Infant Summit, many citizens of Washington D.C. have a newfound hope that their voices will be heard and their women and children will be cared for. At the very least, this event should lead to more poignant and productive conversations pertaining to women’s health.