“My mother and her family grew up outside of Pittsburgh and are still there. Back in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, it was a time that if you were black and you were sick, there were only certain hospitals that you could go to,” says Celeste Warren, vice president of Global Diversity & Inclusion Center of Excellence at Merck. “There was this inherent and systemic, disparate treatment – fast forward to today and to know that women still face racial disparities giving birth in both Pittsburgh and across the U.S., it’s disheartening and something we know we need to address.”
The U.S. is the only high-income country with maternal mortality on the rise, but it also faces another crisis: racial disparities in maternal health outcomes that are stark and persistent. According to the CDC, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women.
To help reduce maternal deaths and narrow disparities in the U.S., Merck for Mothers – Merck’s $500 million global health initiative – launched Safer Childbirth Cities. Through Safer Childbirth Cities, Merck for Mothers is providing funding support for projects in cities across the country. We recognized that if we did not put health equity at the front and center of our efforts in the U.S., we would not be able to help reverse the current maternal health trends.
“Safer Childbirth Cities is supporting city-based coalitions of community-based organizations and advocates to help make sure that every woman, every time, has access to high quality care and services that she needs on her pregnancy and motherhood journey,” shares Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, lead and executive director of Merck for Mothers.
Through collaborations, Merck for Mothers has reached more than 10 million women - and counting - around the world in 48 countries. In the U.S., the initiative has been addressing some of the leading contributors to maternal mortality: poor data on why women are dying; inconsistent obstetric care; the rise in chronic conditions; and limited awareness of the problem.
Ten cities are part of the first cohort of Safer Childbirth Cities, including Pittsburgh. There, Merck for Mothers is funding the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and its partners, who are improving coordination among local service providers, training midwives and other health professionals, and building a local maternal health movement. Merck for Mothers is now inviting organizations to apply for funding as part of the second cohort of Safer Childbirth Cities, with the aim of expanding geographically to additional U.S. cities and impacting more local communities.
“When people feel valued and empowered, they are able to innovate and make amazing things happen. At Merck, we’re helping employees and we’re building inclusive leaders, but we have to look outside of Merck,” notes Celeste. “Safer Childbirth Cities is one example of how we’re incorporating diversity and inclusion into all that we do as a company.”
Watch Celeste and Mary-Ann’s conversation to learn more about Safer Childbirth Cities and Merck’s inclusive efforts to support mothers everywhere.
“For Merck for Mothers, diversity and inclusion is making sure that we understand and include the voices and the experiences of all women in the U.S. in our solutions,” comments Mary-Ann. “We can do that by engaging in collaborations that are inclusive, by making sure that we create the processes and structures for voices on the frontlines of our communities to be integrated into decision making, and by supporting localized solutions. That’s what Safer Childbirth Cities is going to do.”