How Do You Keep Black Mothers from Dying? 23rd Annual HeLa Symposium to Address National Crisis

Family members share their stories of losing a mother following childbirth; experts tackle ways to ensure the health of African-Americans mothers and babies.

 ATLANTA – September 18, 2018 – Thought leaders in women’s and reproductive health will gather for Morehouse School of Medicine’s (MSM) 23rd Annual HeLa Symposium “Birthing Babies: A Solution Symposium to Address the Crisis of African-American Maternal and Infant Mortality.” MSM is partnering with March of Dimes for the day-long event on Friday, September 28 at MSM’s Louis W. Sullivan National Center for Primary Care.

“African-American women are 243 percent more likely to die due to issues related to pregnancy or childbirth,” said Roland Matthews, M.D., OBGYN Chair at Morehouse School of Medicine citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There are a number of factors contributing to this startlingly high rate. From stress to heart disease. As a medical community, it is up to us to ensure that African-American women are has healthy as possible during and following their pregnancies.”

The morning will begin with experts from the CDC, United Healthcare, and other organizations as they define the problem and focus on finding solutions. This will be followed by a roundtable discussion among community leaders moderated by Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes.

“The rate of preterm births in the United States has risen for the third year in a row,” said Stewart. “When it comes to African-American women, preterm births are rising at a disproportionate rate. Every mom and baby deserves the opportunity to be as healthy as possible regardless of income, education or racial background. We are working to ensure all woman have access to preventive and supportive care before, during and after pregnancy.”

During lunch, three guest speakers will share how this crisis forever changed their lives. Charles Johnson lost his wife shortly after she gave birth to their second child. Wanda Irving is now raising her grandchildren after her daughter passed away due to complications from childbirth. Sherri Martin Kinard will talk about how she nearly lost her own life while bringing a new life into the world.

Other topics to be discussed include depression and mental illness, substance abuse, and closing the gap in health disparities.

Guest speakers at this year’s HeLa Conference include:

The annual HeLa Symposium honors the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who in 1951 unknowingly donated her cells to research. Her cells were then used to develop numerous vaccines, used in cancer research, and were integral in the creation of a cure for polio.

For more information and to register for the symposium, please visit MSM’s HeLa Symposium web page.


About March of Dimes
March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every baby can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 80-year legacy of impact and innovation, we empower every mom and every family.

Visit or for more information. Visit for comfort and support. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter.


About Morehouse School of Medicine
Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists, and public health professionals. In 2011, MSM was recognized by Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation’s No. 1 medical school in fulfilling a social mission.

MSM faculty and alumni are noted for excellence in teaching, research and public policy, as well as exceptional patient care. Morehouse School of Medicine is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctoral and master's degrees. To learn more about programs and donate today, please visit or call 404-752-1500.

# # #