Earlier this month was Black Maternal Health Week, an important time to stop and take stock of the challenges facing women of colour in Canberra, in Australia and around the world.

The cause is close to MEJ Solicitor Thuto Disele’s heart and one she’s proud to champion. This July, Thuto will address the 2024 Medical Law Conference in Sydney to present her talk, ‘The appropriate time to see colour (Maternal deaths among women and women of colour in Australia)’.

“Black Maternal Health Week was founded in 2018 by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance,” explains Thuto. “This is an organisation that has different types of Black women from all walks of life…designed to raise awareness about the Black maternal health crisis that we currently employ and for victims to share their stories and to feel safe enough to do so and these experiences start a very important conversation.”

Thuto explains that while research around the medical care of pregnant women of colour in Australia has some way to go, the statistics in the United States are dire.

According to data from the CDC, in 2021 the maternal mortality rate in the US for Black women was 2.6 times the rate of white women.

“It’s enough information to be [relevant] to healthcare providers, so they can become acquainted with this information and the gap in in health care services, to mitigate the risks that are presented to people that are more vulnerable to the healthcare system.”

Thuto Disele.

Thuto has a busy practice in medical negligence claims, seeking compensation for patients who have suffered injury through medical error, and it is through this lens that which she will present at the Medical Law Conference. Thuto also represents clients in institutional abuse matters, including sexual and physical abuse claims.

“In my line of work in personal injury, we aim to help injured victims find compensation in some meaningful way and allow their voices to be heard,” says Thuto. “So, the question I will be posing to my colleagues at the conference will be: is it time to expand the scope of what we understand to be personal injury liability? And is it time to re-examine our health system and hold practitioners accountable for providing adequate informed care to the patient?”

“Institutional racism and systemic inequalities should not exist at all, but they do. Most importantly it should not trickle down into healthcare because that’s when people are most vulnerable.”

“Doctors take an oath and have a duty of care to advocate for their patients when necessary and they need to provide informed care which includes taking a step further to customise that care because it’s not one size fits all…research suggests that women of colour are more susceptible to things like high blood pressure or pre-existing cardiovascular morbidity, which increased the risk of maternal mortality and we just can’t ignore these facts.”

“I’m not a mother yet – I would like to have to have my own kids in the future – but I am a Black woman living in a foreign country, a country I call my second home and a country that I love, but it categorises me as a minority group as well. So as someone who sees myself having my own family, these very issues explored by Black Maternal Health Week really do concern me in the near future, alongside my sisters and cousins and friends. I think it’s really, really admirable that we’re having these conversations.”

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