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Transforming trends that affect entire populations


Reversing a Devastating Trend

Racial disparity in perinatal outcomes is among the area’s most urgent public health problems, according to Mother Health International, a Charlottesville-based organization that formed the Sisters Keeper Collective in 2014.

There are many barriers to proper care for black women during and after pregnancy and birth, and the effects of that inequality are devastating: Charlottesville’s black infant mortality rate is 17.5 per 1,000 live births, more than double the overall city infant mortality rate of 8.8 and the state rate of 7.2. In nearby Nelson County, the black infant mortality rate is 50 deaths per 1,000 live births, ten times higher than white infant mortality. More than 30 Sisters Keeper Collective doulas are here to help. Over the next five years, and with about $1.2 million in funding—$500,000 of which comes from a Shaping Futures Grant co-funded by Dorothy Batten and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital —this group of black women, many of whom understand these problems first-hand, plans to lower black infant mortality rates.

More doulas are being trained to reach more mothers and babies. The doulas complete an intensive training and apprenticeship before working with moms on their own, and they provide peri- natal support according to a mother’s needs. A doula might accompany an expectant mother to prenatal yoga classes and doctor’s appointments; she might tell her what she can expect at the hospital, hold her hand through the labor process or help mother and baby get the hang of breastfeeding. The results so far have been dramatic.

Since the grants began in February 2017, Sisters Keeper doulas attended 137 births of black women who are Medicaid eligible, and made 276 prenatal visits and 184 postpartum visits, all at no cost to mom. So far, only one baby whose mother has been a participant has been premature or underweight—a rate thus far of less than 1%, compared to the state average of 9.6% for black babies.


Learn how the Sisters Keeper Doula Collective partnered with the Community Foundation to make dramatic changes in birth outcomes for black babies through a Shaping Futures grant.

Hear local youth talk about the population-level trends that they’re seeing in our community.