A $24 million award in first-year funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established a network of Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence. The centers are part of the broader NIH Implementing a Maternal Health and Pregnancy Outcomes Vision for Everyone (IMPROVE) initiative and will focus on research to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths and to promote greater equity in US maternal health.
The announcement was made by the NIH on August 17, 2023.
The US leads other high-income countries in annual maternal deaths, with more than 1200 recorded in 2021. Moreover, severe pregnancy-related complications affect tens of thousands of pregnant persons each year in the US; such perinatal morbidity can increase the risk in later life of conditions including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and mental health issues, the NIH wrote.
Endemic to the US also are widespread and significant disparities in maternal health outcomes across racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, age, education level, and geographic area. Grants to the new Centers of Excellence, estimated at $168 million over 7 years, will fund efforts to better understand and develop solutions to these inequities.
“The magnitude and persistence of maternal health disparities in the United States underscore the need for research to identify evidence-based solutions to promote health equity and improve outcomes nationwide,” said Diana W Bianchi, MD, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in the NIH statement.
Ten institutions across the US will participate as research centers; funding was awarded to the universities, schools of medicine, and health science centers based on a competitive peer review process. For collaborative use there will also be a data innovation and coordinating hub and an implementation science hub. Together the facilities will design research to identify and then investigate the biological, behavioral, environmental, sociocultural, and structural factors that drive excess pregnancy-related complications and deaths in the US.
Populations consistently affected by inequities in access to health care will be the focus of outreach and study including racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, those living in rural areas, and persons with disabilities.
Collaboration with community organizations will be a key feature of each center’s work and will include state and local public health agencies, community health centers, and faith-based organizations. Importantly, the centers also will support professional development of maternal health researchers, prioritizing individuals coming from population groups underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce.
“Through collaborations with community partners and others, the Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence will generate critical scientific evidence to help guide clinical care and reduce health disparities during and after pregnancy,” Bianchi said.
Source: NIH establishes Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence. National Institutes of Health. News release. August 17, 2023. Accessed August 21, 2023. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-establishes-maternal-health-research-centers-excellence