WV Sees ‘Alarming’ Black Infant, Maternal Mortality Rates

Nadia Ramlagan

In West Virginia, babies of Black mothers are dying at higher rates in childbirth compared to white infants – and experts say the lack of access to healthcare for people of color is likely driving those numbers.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s white infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 births – while the Black infant mortality rate was more than 13 deaths per 1,000 births.

The figures are from 2014 to 2017, but Health Policy Analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Rhonda Rogombe called them “alarming.”

“All the data has shown that even when controlling for different pieces – like race, controlling for income, educational attainment, all these different factors,” said Rogombe, “Black folks are still experiencing these disparities at a much higher rate.”

According to a report by the Center, in 2019, the uninsured rate among Black West Virginians topped 10% – 2% higher than the white uninsured rate. And in several rural counties, the rate surpassed 20%.

Rogombe added that even with health insurance, many rural residents lack healthcare providers in their communities.

Rogombe said West Virginia’s move to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income postpartum moms was a step in the right direction.

But she pointed out that increasing overall access to healthcare, and sharing infant and maternal mortality data with researchers, could help reduce deaths.

“In West Virginia, when a mother dies in a pregnancy-related or associated death, the state doesn’t allow for the review panel to interview their family,” said Rogombe. “And I think that can also bring a lot of insights.”

Rogombe noted that racial bias in the healthcare system may also play a role.