Merck Expands Safer Childbirth Cities Initiative to 20th Community-Led Project Advancing Maternal Health Equity During Black Maternal Health Week

Apr 15, 2021 8:00 AM ET
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Merck known as MSD outside the United States and Canada, has announced the funding support of its 20th community-based project in the Safer Childbirth Cities initiative aimed at fostering solutions that will help U.S. cities become safer, more equitable places to give birth. The expansion of the program, launched by Merck for Mothers, Merck’s global initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die giving life, comes at an important moment during Black Maternal Health Week occurring April 11 – 17, 2021. The annual week, founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, is centered on deepening the conversation and community-led solutions to improve Black maternal health outcomes in the U.S.

The newest Safer Childbirth Cities grant to the Austin Community Foundation as fiscal sponsor for the Black Mamas Community Collective, supports a project to directly tackle racial inequities in maternal health outcomes and increase access to quality care for Black mothers and their families in Austin, TX. The project will be implemented by the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative (MHEC), which centers Black Women and Women of Color — both in leading the collaborative and in the work they do in and with the community. The MHEC is made up of four doula organizations, Black Mamas ATX, Giving Austin Labor Support, Healing Hands Community Doula Project and Mama Sana Vibrant Woman and two parental support organizations, Hand to Hold and Partners in Parenting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. Data from a 2020 study by the Texas Department of State Health Services shows a similar trend in Texas where Black women are disproportionality impacted by maternal mortality and 89% of all pregnancy-related deaths in the state could have been prevented. Merck for Mothers is committed to programs like Safer Childbirth Cities that bring local resources to communities such as Austin, TX in order to address the root causes of this disparity, including community factors and the social determinants of health that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes.

“Elevating Black and other historically marginalized voices, community leadership and local health solutions is a fundamental part of helping to reverse the health inequity that has persisted across the U.S. and globally,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer, Merck. “We are proud to add a 20th community-led project through the Safer Childbirth Cities initiative as part our company’s ongoing work to catalyze a future where health care is available to all.”

The Safer Childbirth Cities initiative announced a second cohort of grantees in January 2021, expanding the impact of the program to organizations located in U.S. cities with a high burden of maternal mortality and morbidity. With the newest grant, the MHEC will add culturally-sensitive and comprehensive perinatal childcare services to compliment the wraparound community doula support of the collaborative and ensure that Black mothers and their families are able to access the holistic, whole-person care needed to alleviate maternal health complications and reduce inequities. 

“Black Maternal Health Week is an important reminder that to address the alarming reality of the U.S being the only developed nation with maternal mortality rates on the rise, we need to directly tackle racial disparities in all of our solutions,” said Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, lead and executive director, Merck for Mothers. “Through Safer Childbirth Cities and the work of the Maternal Health Equity Collaborative, we can begin to address the systemic racism that has left Black women underserved in our current health system.”

"Systemic racism forms the basis upon which current inequities in the perinatal and postpartum health care system are built. This has created various gaps in care that directly impact the health and mortality of the BIPOC community," said Kelenne Blake-Fallon, the Communications Director for the MHEC. "We have big goals for how we can further align our organizations to eliminate maternal mortality and morbidity in Central Texas. Working with the strengths of the collaborative and the broader social services ecosystem, this funding through Safer Childbirth Cities will empower us to help address inequities in maternal health through childcare for Black birthing people in Central Texas, which will have a ripple effect on the community as a whole."

The Pritzker Children’s Initiative is a co-funder of the Austin project. They are part of a larger collective of co-funders of Safer Childbirth Cities including: The Burke Foundation, The Community Health Acceleration Partnership, Fondation CHANEL, George Kaiser Family Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, Rhia Ventures, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Yellow Chair Foundation. To learn more about the initiative, selected organizations, collaborators and co-funders, please visit SaferChildbirthCities.com.