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Health, Science & Environment

Racial disparities still persist in the care of premature babies

UCSF Children's Hospital Nurse Emily Haskell feeds one of the Miller-Prince twins. The syringe has breast milk which is administered to the premature baby via a canula.
Sheraz Sadiq
/
KQED Quest
UCSF Children's Hospital Nurse Emily Haskell feeds one of the Miller-Prince twins. The syringe has breast milk which is administered to the premature baby via a canula.

A new Ohio State University study finds racial and ethnic disparities in the medical treatment for babies born before viability in the U.S. Despite more advanced treatments, the study discovered disparities continued within minority communities.

Researchers from the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine looked at periviable births between 2014-2020, which includes infants born between 22 weeks and 25 weeks, six days gestation. Those occur in four out of every 1,000 deliveries in the U.S., but account for nearly 40% of all neonatal deaths.

“The reason we focused on that population is over 50% of infant deaths and complications occur in this critical four-week period,” says Dr. Kartik Venkatesh, maternal fetal medicine specialist at the Wexner Medical Center. “And it's a problem that particularly affects minority communities in the United States. For example, over 30% of these birds are occurring in black mothers and over half in minority women.”

The study published in the Journal of American Medical Association reviewed National Center for Health Statistics data for nearly 62,000 babies born in the periviable stage between 2014 and 2020. Of those births, 37% were Black, 34% were white, 24% were Hispanic and 5% were Asian/Pacific Islander.

"What we found was that persistently minority infants or infants born to minority mothers of black, Asian or Hispanic backgrounds were less likely to receive these interventions compared to their white counterparts,” he said.

More premature births could occur as laws change governing reproductive freedom and choice, Venkatesh said. He hopes this study will spur further clinical and public health intervention to address persistent racial and ethnic disparities in maternal care and neonatal care.

“It’s a clinical problem,” Venkatesh said. “It’s a public health problem. It’s a societal problem. And we certainly need more research to see why we’re seeing these differences.”

Debbie Holmes began her career in broadcasting in Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University. She left the Buckeye state to pursue a career in television news and worked as a reporter and anchor in Moline, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee.