Here's an unsettling statistic: The maternal mortality rate for black women in Virginia is more than two times as high as for white women, according to the Virginia Department of Health's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

At a recent ceremonial signing for two pregnancy-related measures, Gov. Ralph Northam announced his goal of eliminating the racial disparity in the maternal mortality rate in Virginia by 2025. One bill codifies the Maternal Mortality Review Team in Virginia, and the other requires maternity care providers to educate women about perinatal anxiety; they go into effect July 1.

"A critical component of improving maternal health outcomes is the elimination of the racial disparity we are seeing in Virginia and across the nation," Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said in a statement, adding that "this is a worthy goal that is perfectly within reach."

Virginia's gap follows the national trend. Between 2011 and 2015, African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women in general, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is shameful in this day and age. We applaud the governor for wanting to tackle this gruesome disparity as Virginia promotes maternal health.

As executive director of Urban Baby Beginnings in Richmond, which works with new and expecting mothers, Stephanie Spencer says many of the black women she works with are afraid of dying.

"That's one of their big concerns," Spencer told WCVE News. "And that should never be. You should never have to walk around in fear that you're going to lose your life or your baby's life. Because that impacts your pregnancy. Because we're telling moms 'You should be happy that you're pregnant' — yet you go to the news and you hear that moms and babies are dying. How am I supposed to feel about that as a mom?"

Medicaid expansion has helped to make sure mothers have access to care, she said. Before Jan. 1, low-income pregnant women only received coverage while they were pregnant and for 60 days postpartum.

Northam has directed the appropriate state agencies to expedite Medicaid enrollment of eligible pregnant women. Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of Virginia's Department of Medical Assistance Services, told WCVE News this is their No. 1 priority. "[W] know by looking at numbers that Medicaid is a health insurance program for mostly children. And how do we make sure that every child has a healthy start? We've gotta start with mom."

Additionally, the governor is asking state health agencies to explore ways to increase "implicit bias and cultural competency training" for health care workers. While Northam has pledged to concentrate on racial equity for the rest of his term in the aftermath of the emergence in February of a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, this effort is long overdue. We hope this initiative will erase this disturbing gap and improve overall maternal health.

Excerpted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Editor's note: Editorials shared from other newspapers are offered in an effort to disseminate additional opinion and information, and do not necessarily represent the views of The Daily Progress.

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