An “immediate and urgent" investigation into “alarming” perinatal mortality rates in the African community in Ireland is needed, according to an advocacy group.
The Association for Improvements into Maternity Services (AIMS Ireland) says the latest figures are “disturbing” and the HSE needs to say exactly what it is doing about them.
The organisation’s call has come after the Irish Examiner discovered Perinatal Mortality Rates (PMRs) are highest where the mother or expectant mother is listed as national African and living in Ireland.
The stillbirth rate is 6.3% compared to 3.7% for national Irish mothers.
Also, the early neonatal mortality rate is more than double that for national Irish mothers, at 3.5% compared to 1.6%, and the perinatal mortality rate is nearly double - 9.8% compared with 5.3%.
The figures are contained in the 2017 Perinatal Statistics Report, published last September by the HSE’s Healthcare Pricing Office (HPO).
Black maternity mortality rates have come to the fore as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the emergence of groups such as Black Mothers Matter.
In March, for example, singer Rochelle Humes presented the UK's Channel 4 Dispatches documentary The Black Maternity Scandal.
It revealed black women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women.
When asked what it is doing about the disparities, the HSE said: "Each maternity unit has local arrangements in place to ensure care is provided to minority groups in a culturally sensitive manner and, for example, provision of translation services."
It stated that while the rates vary and “may appear large” they are “not remarkable” by international standards.
A spokesperson for the HSE’s National Women and Infants Health Programme (NWIHP) added: “It may be useful to bear in mind the PMR in Nigeria is approximately 40 per thousand."
In addition, they also said that while they exist, the differences in Ireland between advantaged and disadvantaged populations are relatively small.
The spokesperson said these are best addressed by providing an “educational system that allows for equality of opportunity independent of gender or economic circumstances”.
The NWIHP also said: "There is, of course, a place for targeted measures for a particular group but in the long term, the only policy that is likely to be successful is one that fosters and encourages rapid integration."
AIMS Ireland chair Dr Krysia Lynch said: “These PMR figures are alarming, very disturbing and they need urgent and immediate action.
“For a start, the HSE needs to explain why the mortality rates are higher and what exactly it is doing to reduce them.
"And to suggest that it might be useful to review the Nigerian PMR figures is completely inappropriate in this context.
“In addition, the HSE appears to be saying either African women should rapidly integrate into Irish society, or Ireland should do more to rapidly integrate them into Irish society, and again I fail to see what this has to do with safe, culturally robust maternity services.
"The HSE’s response is, in effect, that this has absolutely nothing to do with maternity services."
The HSE, in additional comment, added that its National Women and Infant’s Health Programme has advised that any differences in mortality rates, and changes in those rates of perinatal mortality that cannot be explained by existing knowledge, will be the subject of further detailed analysis.