Merck earmarks $10M to improve U.S. maternal health equity

The U.S. is the only high-income country in the world where maternal mortality is on the rise. Merck is working to change that—and just pledged another $10 million to the fight.

The new funding, pledged through the pharma giant's global Merck for Mothers initiative, specifically targets maternal health inequity in U.S. cities with above-average rates of maternal mortality for Black people and other people of color. 

This is the second round of grants in Merck's Safer Childbirth Cities effort, which began in 2018 with 10 recipients. The latest funding is earmarked for nine additional local organizations already working to improve maternal health.

It’s likely no surprise that the health inequities Black communities and people of color face are especially prevalent when it comes to maternal health care. At least 60% of the about 700 pregnancy-related deaths each year in the U.S. could have been prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“In the U.S., Black women, as well as Alaska Native and American Indian women, are two to three times more likely to die from a complication during pregnancy and childbirth," Mary-Ann Etiebet, M.D., executive director of Merck for Mothers, said.

In some places, such as New York City, that rate is even higher. Black women there are eight to 12 times more likely to die due to complications of birth and pregnancy, she said.

Because local education and engagement efforts are often more successful than broader ones, the maternity grants are specifically set for community-based organizations already involved in supporting at-risk women. Etiebet stressed the importance of a cross-section of groups working together.

Merck asked for proposals to be submitted as coalitions, which will allow organizations doing similar work to communicate and join forces. In the past, the coalitions formed tended to continue regardless of whether they received one of the grants, Etiebet said.

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“We really wanted to fuel collective action and build momentum so that this would continue, not only to be at the top of people's minds in terms of things that we need to address for women in this country, but also in translating this sense of outrage into action,” she said.