American Heart Association Commits $20 Million Toward Health Equity

The American Heart Association announced on March 4 that it has committed a $20 million scientific research initiative that will fund the Health Equity Research Network (HERN) on Disparities in Maternal-Infant Health Outcomes.

The release states that “The initiative seeks to better understand the link between pregnancy complications and cardiovascular health among women and their babies. The Association will select several teams of researchers to undertake special projects focused on significantly advancing the understanding of the factors underlying the disproportionate impact of maternal complications and deaths among Black women, Native American women and those living in rural areas.”

That said, “According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among industrialized countries (Hoyert, NCHS Health E-Stats, 2021), and the U.S. is the only industrialized country in which rates are worsening. Conditions related to the heart and vascular system are the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. Pregnancy-related death rates for non-Hispanic Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are more than two to three times that of white women and Hispanic women. These disparities persist independent of socioeconomic variables.”

Michelle A. Albert, M.D., volunteer president-elect of the American Heart Association, professor of medicine, director of the CeNter for the StUdy of AdveRsiTy and CardiovascUlaR DiseasE (NURTURE Center) and associate dean of admissions at the University of California, San Francisco, was quoted in the release saying that “Social determinants of health contribute to approximately 80 percent of cardiovascular risk. In order to inform urgently needed solutions for the maternal health crisis, research is needed that takes into account the unique social determinants and stressors, as well as clinical risk factors such as fibroids and care processes that result in the disproportionate maternal health outcomes by race and ethnicity.”

“Racial and ethnic maternal health disparities also translate into disparities in infant mortality with Black babies having an infant mortality rate of 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 8.2 for American Indian/Alaska Native babies and 4.6 deaths for white babies, according to the CDC,” the release adds. “Albert also noted that geographic disparities also exist among women living in rural communities who experience higher mortality rates than women living in urban communities.”

The deadline for submitting pre-proposal notification is March 8. Full applications for the grants are due April 21. The awardees will be announced in late June and the four-year research studies will begin July 1.

Information on the grants and instructions for applying can be found here.

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