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As maternal deaths rise, NIH establishes new research centers


The nation’s prime source of federal aid for medical research hopes to address the nation’s high rate of maternal mortality and complications.

Diana W. Bianchi, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said research centers on maternal health aim to reduce complications and deaths. (Photo: NIH)

Diana W. Bianchi, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said research centers on maternal health aim to reduce complications and deaths. (Photo: NIH)

Aiming to reverse the nation’s troubling rise in complications and deaths tied to pregnancy, the National Institutes of Health is financing new centers for research in maternal health.

The NIH said Thursday it is investing $24 million in the first year of funding to establish the Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence. The NIH, the primary source of federal aid for health research, said it expects to invest $168 million in grants over seven years, depending on the availability of funds.

Diana W. Bianchi, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement that she hopes the research will lead to better outcomes and eliminate disparities in minority groups.

“The magnitude and persistence of maternal health disparities in the United States underscore the need for research to identify evidence-based solutions to promote health equity and improve outcomes nationwide,” Bianchi said in a statement.

Why it matters

Healthcare advocates and federal officials have called for growing attention to maternal mortality. Nationwide, maternal deaths rose 40% in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

America’s maternal mortality rate has more than doubled from 1999 to 2019, according to a study published in July in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Health equity

The NIH says the research will focus on addressing disparities in maternal health, including members of racial and ethnic minorities and those with lower incomes. Black Americans are much more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications, according to the CDC.

Researchers will also look at disparities in underserved rural areas, members of sexual and gender minority groups, and individuals with disabilities.

Avoidable deaths

More than 80% of all maternal deaths are preventable, according to a report released last year by the CDC. More than half (53%) of pregnancy-related deaths took place from seven days to one year after giving birth, the CDC reported.

Who gets the grants

NIH said the institutions are receiving grants after a competitive process involving peer review of proposals.

Avera McKennan Hospital, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Maternal American-Indian Rural Community Health (MARCH)

Columbia University, New York City

NY Community-Hospital-Academic Maternal Health Equity Partnerships (NY-CHAMP)

Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi

Delta Mississippi Center of Excellence in Maternal Health

Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Addressing Key Social-Structural Risk Factors for Racial Disparities in Maternal Morbidity in Southeastern Wisconsin (ASCEND WI)

Michigan State University, East Lansing

Maternal Health Multilevel Intervention/s for Racial Equity (MIRACLE) Center

Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta

Center to Advance Reproductive Justice and Behavioral Health among Black Pregnant/Postpartum Women and Birthing People (CORAL)

Stanford University, Stanford, California

Stanford PRIHSM: Preventing Inequities in Hemorrhage-related Severe Maternal Morbidity

Tulane University, New Orleans

Southern Center for Maternal Health Equity

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City

Center for American Indian/Alaska Native Resilience, Culture, and Maternal Health Equity

University of Utah, Salt Lake City

ELEVATE Center: Reduction of Maternal Morbidity from Substance Use Disorder in Utah

Other partners

The NIH says Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore will support data collection and offer expertise in data science. The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia will integrate the findings of the research into public health and clinical practice.

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