MCH Leads Health Equity Edition – In order to advance health equity for MCH populations, beginning January 2023, MCH Leads will feature trainees’ health equity-focused work. We look forward to highlighting trainees’ experiences supporting the health and well-being of vulnerable and underserved populations and communities. Also, their work assessing and addressing the underlying causes of health disparities–and their efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion–ultimately improving MCH outcomes. In addition, we encourage trainees to reflect on how the MCH Leadership Competencies are applicable to their health equity-focused stories.
Ijeoma Uche, a dedicated public health professional, co-founded Birth By Us before pursuing her Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at UC Berkeley’s Center of Excellence in Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. Birth By Us is dedicated to providing expectant Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) parents with the resources they need to have a successful perinatal experience. Ijeoma’s journey in maternal health began at Brown University where she conducted extensive research on disparities in maternal health outcomes while balancing her responsibilities as a high-performing student-athlete. Her unwavering commitment to addressing this critical issue is reflected in her work and her determination to be a change-maker in the field. As a second-year MPH student, she has continued to deepen her knowledge and understanding of the existing disparities within maternal, child, and adolescent health. Excited about the potential of digital healthcare in the field of reproductive health, Ijeoma is eager to continue making a difference and sharing her knowledge and experience with others. If you are interested in connecting with Ijeoma and learning more about her work and passions, you can find her on LinkedIn!
About a year and a half ago, I took on the challenge of addressing the unequal perinatal health outcomes faced by women of color by developing Birth By Us, a perinatal health equity app. Birth By Us (BBU) is a Black-owned and founded app that empowers Black mothers and birthing people to shape their birthing experience while giving providers and hospital systems the necessary insights to best support their birth. BBU aims to be the pregnancy, birth, and postpartum app for Black people through tailored, culturally competent patient education and resources, comprehensive check-in questionnaires, and integrated services for Black birthing people, their partners, and their providers. We hope to be utilized by every Black birthing person between the beginning of their pregnancy through a year postpartum in order to help guide them towards their best perinatal outcome and experience. I co-founded BBU with the belief that we could improve perinatal experiences and outcomes through preparation and education, health tracking, patient satisfaction surveys, and culturally specific resources.
With rising maternal mortality rates triple those of any other developed nation, the United States today is clearly plagued by disparate birth outcomes (Taylor et al., 2022). Black people are currently 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth compared to their White counterparts, often due to missed signs and routine dismissal from their providers. Additionally, as there are approximately 9 million Black women of reproductive age in the U.S., this is an issue affecting many individuals. From statistics like this, coupled with the fact that 84% of maternal deaths were deemed preventable, it is clear that the U.S. healthcare system is failing its patients, especially Black women (CDC, 2022).
As pre-medical Black women, my co-founder and I recognized the need for change, as we realized that we too could become victims of the very problems we aim to address. From August 2021 to June 2022, we conducted focus groups and individual interviews with over 120 stakeholders, including but not limited to Black women and birthing people, their partners, doulas, midwives, obstetricians, quality improvement experts, and academic researchers.
In our research, we found that Black women and expectant parents often feel disempowered and afraid during their pregnancy and postpartum journeys because they don’t have the resources they need for an optimal outcome. On the other hand, even when maternal care providers are aware of the issue and want to make a change; providers struggle to find the right strategies due to the exhaustion of their current responsibilities and a healthcare payment system not suitable to support value-based care.
Thanks to the ample support from UC Berkeley’s MPH/MCAH program, I was able to leverage my MPH training to advance our product. My MPH coursework and summer practicum highlighted the significance of my public health education, allowing me to apply it in innovative ways. With the support of UC Berkeley and MIT, we have been selected to participate in Berkeley’s Skydeck Pad-13 program, recognized as finalists in the Berkeley BIG IDEAS, and given the chance to present at transformative maternal health conferences. We have also received support and recognition from renowned organizations like MIT Sandbox, PKG Center, MIT Venture Mentoring Service, MIT IDEAS social innovation challenge, UC Berkeley Wallace Center for Maternal Child and Adolescent Health, UC Berkeley Skydeck, and Tufts MOTHER lab.
My journey in creating Birth By Us has been a transformative one. I have become a stronger leader, researcher, entrepreneur, communicator, and public health professional. I am passionate about sharing my experiences and hope that future MPH students will have similar opportunities to take their training beyond traditional paths and explore new and innovative ways to make an impact. I believe increased diversity is critical to creating an equitable healthcare system. I am excited to see the diverse range of ideas and solutions that will be brought to life by the next generation of MPH entrepreneurs!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 19). Four in 5 pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are preventable. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from CDC.gov.
Taylor, J., Bernstein, A., Waldrop, T., & Smith-Ramakrishnan, V. (2022, April 26). The worsening U.S. maternal health crisis in three graphs. The Century Foundation. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from TCF.org.