Grant to address maternal health disparities in Black women

Elizabeth Mollard, PhD

Elizabeth Mollard, PhD

Elizabeth Mollard, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC College of Nursing-Lincoln Division, has received a $304,641 grant from the National Institutes of Health, which will fund an 18-month study to explore how to improve maternal wellness and reduce health disparities in Black women.

According to recent research, including by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women in the United States are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause and 63% more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity when compared to white women.

The study will examine a program, called Protective Assets Reinforced with Integrated Care and Technology (PARITY), which is a strength-based intervention intended to empower women to take control of their health care.

The work is especially important, Dr. Mollard said, because studies have shown that pregnant Black women face stigma that may affect the quality of health care received.

“This study focuses on the strengths of Black women and emphasizes the solutions that are already being successfully implemented by Black birth workers,” Dr Mollard said. PARITY combines support from an in-person doula and wellness technology platform to supplement standard prenatal care. The control group in this study will receive only standard, information only care.

“In the PARITY intervention, participants are assigned a community-based Black doula to offer support, emphasize their strengths, promote wellness behaviors and care adherence,” Dr. Mollard said. “Simultaneously, they will receive 12 weeks of tailored wellness, strengths and health care adherence messaging via a mobile technology platform.”

The mobile technology platform allows participants to communicate with a virtual doula and receive messages with hyperlinks that include information on various wellness topics.

The inspiration for the grant came from the grassroots efforts of Black birth workers, something Dr. Mollard said she witnesses firsthand as a certified nurse midwife.

“The idea came together one night while I was working with Anabelle Elya, co-investigator and doula, as we were supporting a woman through labor and birth,” she said. “It was one of those moments where I felt like we were truly making a difference, and it inspired me to incorporate this beautiful thing that was happening into my research.”

Results of the intervention will be measured through changes in blood pressure, gestational weight gain, cesarean rate and changes in wellness behavior such as sleep, nutrition, movement and healthcare adherence.

Said Dr. Mollard: “Whatever the outcomes of our study may be, designing a research study focused on the strengths of Black women is a step toward reducing maternal health disparities.”