DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s Black Maternal Health Week.

The annual campaign, which runs through Sunday, aims to prevent pregnancy-related deaths, and improve maternal health outcomes among Black women.

According to the CDC, about 700 women die during pregnancy or in the year after every year in the United States and this maternal health crisis is particularly devastating for Black women.

Black women are three more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.

“It hurts because I know that this is preventable,” said Joy Spencer.

Spencer is a mom and the executive director for Equity Before Birth.

The Durham nonprofit’s mission is to save the lives of Black birthing people and their infants and improve health outcomes by increasing access to critical services and support.

“It hurts even more to realize that one of the things that we could do to prevent these adverse health outcomes is listen,” Spencer said. “Listen to Black mommas, listen to Black women, listen to Black birthing people and parents.”

Spencer said she has worked with many Black women who did not feel heard during their pregnancies.

“Unfortunately, we hear all the time about people who are complaining about pain and being sent home only to get a second opinion and be told to rush back into the hospital,” Spencer said. “We unfortunately supported a mom who went to the emergency room because of pain, had to sit and wait for about eight hours to be seen and delivered a stillborn infant because the infant had passed during that waiting time.”

The CDC finds several factors contribute to the racial disparities such as quality health care, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism, and implicit bias.

“I think the disparities are a tragedy,” said Dr. Richard Shannon, Chief Quality Officer for Duke Health.

“If we’re going to change those CDC outcomes, then it’s incumbent among each healthcare delivery system that is attending to moms, particularly moms of color, that we understand at a local level what are driving those disparities,” Shannon said.

Duke Health has a fairly new program called Collaborative to Advance Clinical Health Equity, which aims to identify disparities within their system.

“We’ve looked at over six years of data, more than 35,000 deliveries, stratified them by race and ethnicity and asked the question, are there differences,” Shannon said.

Findings did not show a difference between white and African American moms in terms of mortality. However, there were differences in morbidities.

“It turns out African American women are 1.8 times more likely to experience a complication in their pregnancy compared to White, Latino, or Asian moms,” Shannon said.

Based on the data, Dr. Shannon says it appears two factors explain why African American moms have a higher rate of complications within their health system. The first is transportation struggles.

“It turns out, many of our African American moms have to take two or three bus trips and we had not really coordinated our schedules around their particular transportation needs,” Shannon said. “So, we’ve actually begun to match up our scheduled appointments with them to their particular transportation issues in an attempt to try to increase the chance that they get to their visit.”

Secondly, Duke Health finds African American moms in their high-risk population tend to have underlying conditions, many of which are undiagnosed due to lack of healthcare access. This prompted the health system to designate a special care coordinator to work closely with high-risk moms.

“Six or eight months into this effort, we’re seeing a 30 percent decline in maternal morbid events among the African American population,” Shannon said. “So, this can be done but it can only be done when local entities take responsibility for their contribution to this.”

Spencer hopes raising awareness about Black maternal health will improve birth outcomes, something she says everyone can play a role in.

“Let’s all figure out what our role and what our lanes may be and kind of chip in for the collective goal of having a healthier and happier community,” Spencer said.

For more resources on Black Maternal Health Week, click here.