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Pregnancy Screening Tool From NHS May Reduce Baby Deaths Due To Racial Inequalities

The NHS is currently piloting a new artificial intelligence tool to reduce racial disparities in infant mortality rates. Several studies have shown that Black and Asian babies are more likely to die at birth and be stillborn in the UK than white babies.

Reports examining baby loss in 2019 found that for babies of Black and Black British ancestry, stillbirth rates were 7.23 per 1,000 births, for Asian babies, they were 5.1 per 1,000 births, and for white babies, they were 3.22 per 1,000 births.

Data on stillbirths and infant deaths were broken down by ethnicity for the first time by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Between 2007 and 2019, black babies experienced the worst outcomes, while Asian babies consistently had the second-worst consequences.

In response, Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement, established by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), has introduced a tool that aims to end this inequality.

An AI tool uses detailed data gathered during antenatal appointments to predict a woman’s specific, personalized risk of developing complications during pregnancy. The innovative tool reduced sixty percent of baby deaths among mothers from ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, pregnant women were identified as at high risk by the algorithm. And had extra monitoring during pregnancy, so care teams could respond quickly to prevent problems and save the life of their babies.

Researchers identified substantial racial disparities in the perinatal death rate among ethnic minority mothers (7.95 deaths per 1000 births) compared to white mothers (2.63 deaths per 1000 births) when using the standard screening method – which hasn’t changed since the 1970s.

When the new tool was combined with targeted care, infant mortality rates remained the same in all ethnic groups. A trial conducted on more than 20,000 pregnant women will lead to the NHS testing the screening tool in four areas throughout England – London, Yorkshire, Surrey, and Lancashire.

BJOG, an obstetrics and gynecology journal, reported: “First trimester combined screening for placental dysfunction is associated with a significant reduction in perinatal deaths among black, Asian and minority ethnic women – to rates comparable to those among white women.”

The researcher’s team at St George’s University Hospital NHS Trust in London led Prof Basky Thilaganathan, clinical director of Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement. According to him, it’s fascinating to see that switching from the standard pregnancy risk factor checklists to our new approach can almost eliminate a significant source of healthcare inequality for black, Asian, and minority ethnic pregnant women.

Current maternal risk factor screening programs are limited and contribute to racial inequalities. However, our algorithm can account for these shortcomings, so we can genuinely personalize care rather than treat large groups similarly, improving pregnancy outcomes. Considering this new evidence, we urge the government to support and invest in this new system, which will allow us to roll it out more widely across the country.

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