NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — The National Institutes of Health awarded Tulane University, Ochsner Health and nonprofit RH Impact a seven-year grant for the establishment of a research center focused on Louisiana’s disproportionately high maternal mortality rate.

The NIH gave $16.5 million to fund their initiative, IMPROVE, which stands for “Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone.” The money will also be used to erect one of the 10 national Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence.

Along with the research center, a data innovation and coordinating hub and an implementation science hub will be included.

The center also partnered with Dillard University and the University of Mississippi Medical Center to develop innovative approaches to reduce complications and death while promoting maternal health in the Gulf South.

The Black woman-led organization, RH Impact, is known for creating transnational solutions to optimize Black infant health, maternal health and sexual and reproductive well-being. With their help, they hope to explore and propel birth equity research.

Officials say they will use strategies of providing proper training to reduce biased treatment, identifying community post-hospital supports for women and implementing remote home monitoring systems for areas with low access to healthcare.

Statistics rank Louisiana as the state with the highest rate of maternal mortality in the country. It is said that 39 out of every 100,000 mothers die shortly after giving birth.

The rates are higher among Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from complications than their white counterparts.

“Despite the dire state of maternal health in the Gulf South, few large-scale, national efforts include this region, and addressing the ongoing maternal health crisis is not possible without centering Black pregnancy,” said Co-Principal Investigator Emily Harville, Ph.D., a perinatal epidemiologist at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. 

Tens of thousands of women each year experience severe pregnancy-related complications that can have long-lasting effects.

“The project has the ability to improve outcomes not only for those who are currently in the reproductive age range but also has the potential to provide positive impact and change for future generations,” said Co-Principal Investigator Joseph Biggio, MD, MS, system chair and service line leader of Women’s Services and system chair of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Ochsner.

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