Pregnant woman in silhouette by Mustafa Omar

Health effects of air pollution

Why I’m attending the Labour Party conference 

4 October 2023
5 min read

Black Resistance: Black History Month, Clean Air and Black Maternal Health

Agnes Ageypong of Global Black Maternal Health
Agnes Agyepong
Founder and CEO of Global Black Maternal Health

As we step into October, we embrace the powerful theme of this year’s Black History Month: Black Resistance.

This theme invites us to reflect on the indomitable spirit of Black individuals who, throughout history, have resolutely resisted oppression, discrimination, and prejudice. It serves as a poignant reminder that Black history is a tapestry of strength, resilience, and unwavering determination – an invaluable heritage that extends far beyond this dedicated month.

Black History Month is a time of profound significance, offering us an opportunity to spotlight the remarkable contributions and unwavering resilience of Black people, not just during October but every day of the year. It serves as both a celebration of progress and a reminder of the ongoing challenges that persist. It’s a month of reflection, joy, celebration, introspection, and determination.

Global Black Maternal Health

Nearly two years ago, in the spirit of Black resistance and the pursuit of justice, I founded Global Black Maternal Health. My passion for addressing the unique challenges faced by Black women and mothers in relation to maternal health disparities ignited this endeavour.

In the UK, the statistics are stark: Black women are nearly four times more likely to die in pregnancy than white women, and the likelihood of experiencing a stillbirth is twice as high. The reasons for these disparities are multifaceted, but the environment plays a pivotal role.

Time and time again research shows the devastating effect air pollution has on pregnant women and their babies. Women living in areas with high levels of air pollution face a doubled risk of stillbirth. While air pollution is as bad for pregnant women as smoking in raising the risk of miscarriage.

Furthermore, the leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in the UK, second only to suicide, is cardiovascular heart disease. Air pollution contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and exacerbates symptoms.

Air pollution and racial inequality

At Global Black Maternal Health, we are steadfast in our commitment to creating positive change by addressing the intersection of air pollution, health disparities, and the wellbeing of Black women and mothers.

Air pollution affects us all, but its burden is not equally shared. There are so many examples of how Black communities in London are more often exposed to illegal levels of air pollution due to systemic inequalities.

Recognising the urgent need for action, we are dedicated to driving change through research, advocacy, and collaboration.

Research is the foundation of our work. On this year’s Clean Air Day, we unveiled the Black Child Clean Air Report, an unprecedented effort that sheds light on the knowledge, behaviours, and attitudes of Black women regarding air pollution. This invaluable report equips us to develop targeted interventions and policies that can lead to improved health outcomes.

Black Child Clean Air Report

This invaluable report sheds light on the knowledge, behaviours, and attitudes of Black women regarding air pollution. It equips us to develop targeted interventions and policies that can lead to improved health outcomes.

Read the report

The Black Child Clean Air Report offers 14 recommendations for various stakeholders. These recommendations encourage maternity services, healthcare professionals, and governing bodies to engage directly with Black women and stakeholder organisations to understand their unique challenges.

We emphasise the importance of providing culturally sensitive educational materials to Black women living in polluted areas as part of family planning, antenatal, and postnatal care.

Moreover, our report underscores the need to build an evidence base on the impact of air pollution on maternity outcomes, with a focus on at-risk populations, such as Black pregnant women, mothers, and children.

Systemic change

Collaboration is at the core of everything we do because we understand that lasting, systemic changes can only be achieved when research is designed in partnership with communities.

Through our initiatives, we work directly with Black women, mothers, and community leaders, empowering them with knowledge and resources to become active agents of change. By fostering a more inclusive and diverse environmental sector, we aim to create a future where clean air is a right for everyone, regardless of their background.

Labour Party conference

This month, as we celebrate Black History Month under the powerful theme of “Black Resistance,” I will be attending my first party conference, the Labour Party conference. This event provides a vital platform to engage with policymakers and raise awareness about the critical issue of air pollution and its profound impact on health. Our goal is to advocate for policy changes, share our research findings, and stress the importance of addressing environmental injustices to safeguard the health and well-being of marginalised communities.

Our call for clean air and equitable health outcomes is ongoing, but with the support of Impact on Urban Health and the dedication of our team, we are making a difference. By centring the voices and experiences of Black communities, we are working toward a future where no one is left behind. Together, let us continue to empower communities, advocate for change, and create a world where clean air is a reality for all.

This Black History Month, as we celebrate Black resistance, we also honour the enduring spirit of those who have resisted and paved the way for our work, and to those who continue to resist injustice in all its forms.