A Day of Learning, Collaboration and Action to Achieve Birth Equity

Los Angeles, CA | Thursday, November 21, 2019

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In California, as in many other states, health disparities within the African American community are staggering. One key contributor to this health crisis is preterm birth, the leading cause of infant death. While there is no single cause of preterm birth, research shows that chronic inequities and unequal access to quality health care do have a negative impact on these rates. The preterm birth rate for Black women in Los Angeles County, already unacceptably high, increased to 12.8% from 12.1% -- which is 66 percent higher than the rate of White women.

March of Dimes hosted the sold-out summit, a collaboration with FIRST 5 LA, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, PAC/LAC and partners from AAIMM (Los Angeles African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Prevention) Initiative Steering Committee and Community Action Teams, to address health disparities facing African American moms and babies. The summit convened more than 300 statewide healthcare leaders, policy makers, and community advocates from diverse platforms for a day of learning, collaboration and action to achieve birth equity. The agenda elevated the voices of Black mothers and included sessions on root causes of racial disparities, prematurity prevention, statewide birth equity initiatives, doula and midwifery care, community and family partnerships, and trainings to reduce racial bias in healthcare. The morning keynote speaker was Dr. Arthur James who presented “EQUITY in the Opportunity to Survive the First Year of Life - A Dream Deferred...” providing context for summit attendees on the impact racism has on the African American community through a historical lens. The afternoon keynote speaker was Dr. Zea Malawa who presented “Advancing an Anti-Racism Agenda in Health Care Settings.” Dr. Malawa provided practical and specific ways to disrupt racism in the workplace.

“We believe all mothers deserve a healthy and joyous birth; however, racism and structural inequities contribute to disparities in birth outcomes,” says Mashariki Kudumu, March of Dimes Maternal-Child Health Director Los Angeles County. The Summit provided tools to disrupt systems, improve access and quality of care, and unite communities to improve the health of Black moms and babies.”

“My hope is that people left the summit informed, transformed and activated to lock arms to advance real and lasting change,” says Melissa Franklin, Pritzker Fellow at First 5 LA. “The stark inequity of birth disparities faced by African American moms and babies is egregiously unjust, yet I believe that hope can be found in our collective efforts. I greatly appreciate March of Dimes and everyone who attended the summit for their partnership in this work.”

The U.S. is among the most dangerous developed nations in the world to give birth. Each year, two babies die every hour in the U.S. and one woman dies every 12 hours as a result of complications from pregnancy. The 2019 March of Dimes Report Card reveals that in California, the preterm birth rate increased to 8.8% --reaching a 10-year high. The rate of preterm birth has risen for the fourth year in a row.  The U.S. is facing a maternal and infant health crisis. It’s one crisis, not two—as the health of moms and babies are intertwined.

It’s not fine, but it can be. March of Dimes wants every mom to have the support she needs and every baby to get the best possible start in life. Throughout the month of November, Prematurity Awareness Month, we’re bringing communities together to honor and support all moms, babies and their families. Together, we can create solutions that support healthy moms and strong babies not just in November, but all year long. To learn more, please visit

The summit was sponsored by Cedars-Sinai, California Health Care Foundation, Anthem, and Huntington Hospital and took place on Monday, November 18, 2019 at the Center at Cathedral Plaza Ballroom. Most of the presentations will be posted on the summit website at

About March of Dimes

March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every family can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy, we support every pregnant person and every family.

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