Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Texas Southern University’s Center for Justice Research, Baylor College of Medicine and UTHealth McGovern Medical School will receive $2.6 million from the National Institutes of Health to examine perinatal health disparities, with a focus on women in Houston’s high-crime and high-incarceration communities.

“This research aligns directly with TSU’s mission of service and advancing knowledge to improve lives of our surrounding community, the entire city of Houston, the state, and the nation,” said Dr. Mary Evans Sias, Texas Southern University interim president. “We look forward to partnering with Baylor College of Medicine and UTHealth to gain a deeper understanding of the myriad of factors that impact the health of mothers and infants in our community.”

The research funded by this grant comes at a time of urgent need for maternal health solutions, as the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among 13 high-income countries, and as the maternal mortality rate for Black women in America is more than double the overall U.S. rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable and that Black women have three times the risk of maternal mortality compared to White women in the United States. Black women and Hispanic women also experience preterm birth and comorbidities, such as hypertension and gestational diabetes, at disproportionate rates. These disparities may worsen for women of color in high-risk communities who experience spillover stressors from violent crime, police violence and incarceration.

While past research has outlined individual factors of perinatal health, this research aims to identify how environmental and systemic factors may overlap and leverage this knowledge to improve these outcomes, lower maternal mortality and eliminate racial/ethnic disparities.

Although centered in Harris County, Texas, this research has significant implications for those residing in high-risk communities that face similar structural racism challenges and speaks to the national maternal health crisis among women of color in the United States.

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