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Keeping Mothers—and Their Babies—Alive

by Tiffany Wilson for Philadelphia Citizen

Black women made up 43 percent of births in Philly but 73 percent of pregnancy-related deaths from 2013 to 2018. We must, the Science Center’s CEO urges, commit more resources in maternal health—and the leaders close to the cause.

Since the 1980s, maternal mortality rates have risen in the United States. When you extrapolate the data based on race, the safe delivery of a newborn gets more complicated.

In a city like Philadelphia, with a majority-Black population, Black women made up 43 percent of births in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2018 but accounted for a disproportionate 73 percent of pregnancy-related deaths.

There’s no overnight solution to this problem, but raising awareness and getting a critical mass to care is a necessary first step. Like so many facets of our society, skin color and zip code are underlying factors in how these problems are framed and the importance we place on solving them. A recent study concluded that the life expectancy between neighborhoods in Philadelphia can vary by nearly 20 years.

At the University City Science Center, we open our doors to a community of compassionate innovators and entrepreneurs, researchers and academics who have witnessed and experienced these disparities firsthand.

Prioritizing health care access for underserved communities, and the men and women who carry the weight of these statistics, is a vision for the now. Last summer, we announced a new strategic pillar and investment vehicle to deploy funds to diverse founders determined to drive change. That infusion of capital matched with our proven commercialization model will help put the Science Center—and Philadelphia—at the forefront of health care innovation with a tremendous opportunity to positively impact patient outcomes.

In 2020, women-led startup founders received only 2.3 percent of venture capital funding compared to their male counterparts. We must tip the scales and grant more opportunities to those who are closest to problems like infant and female mortality, postpartum depression and the countless other women’s health challenges that need to be addressed in the 21st century—not the 22nd.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health announced a competition to award several financial prizes—totaling $1 million—to innovators with prototypes and research projects that show promise on this front. The American Heart Association has also stepped up, announcing $20 million to research ‘the disproportionate impact of maternal complications and death among Black women, Native American women and women who live in rural areas.’ A Science Center company, Viora Health, was among one of the first recipients of this funding for a technology being used to increase access to care and reduce disease progression in underserved communities.

The federal government and industry associations are taking a leadership position and asking us all—particularly those in the private sector—to make our own contributions to a global cause. It’s important that we listen.

Investors like Chrissy Farr at OMERS Ventures, Arlan Hamilton at Backstage Capital, and Jennifer Hartt of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania are some of the leaders who recognize an opportunity to fix historic disparities in health care through new programs and technology.

It will take time, but the cost of complacency is too significant. The first step is bringing some of these minds and varying perspectives together to identify new and innovative solutions to old challenges. We invite you to attend a series of discussions focused on ‘Innovation in Maternal Health’ at Venture Café Philadelphia on Thursday, March 24. You’ll hear from cross-disciplinary leaders from clinical settings, those with entrepreneurial backgrounds, and investors, on where we are headed and how we can influence positive outcomes by leveraging Greater Philadelphia’s collective expertise.

Generations have felt the impact of inequality and lack of access to health care. Through concerted collaborations, the growth of support for innovation and starting a dialogue, Philadelphia has the potential to be a global example of how to improve outcomes for women, women of color, and mothers-to-be everywhere.

Media Contact:

Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing