Tufts Maternal Health Expert Appointed to Federal Advisory Committee

Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha will bring decades of research on maternal health inequities to the committee that advises the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha sits at a desk and smiles

Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, director of the Center for Black Maternal Health and Reproductive Justice and the Julia A. Okoro Professor of Black Maternal Health at Tufts University School of Medicine, has been appointed to the federal Advisory Committee on Infant and Maternal Mortality (ACIMM), administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, for a four-year term. 

“The ACIMM addresses a critical need,” Amutah-Onukagha says, given the current maternal health crisis in the United States, where maternal mortality rates remain alarmingly high. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22.3 women per 100,000 live births die during pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum. The situation is even more dire for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

“At the Center, I have the privilege of hearing powerful stories from extraordinary women navigating a system that often marginalizes them, leaving them to fight for their lives and the lives of their children. These personal narratives, often overshadowed by statistics and incremental improvements, highlight the urgency and gravity of our mission,” she says. 

As a member of the ACIMM, Amutah-Onukagha will be part of a diverse group of experts—community members, researchers, clinicians, providers, and public health professionals—who advise the Secretary of Health and Human Services on partnerships, policies, and programs to reduce infant and maternal mortality, severe maternal morbidity (SMM), and improve the health of infants and women before, during, and after pregnancy. 

Amutah-Onukagha is well-suited to provide such counsel. For decades, she has conducted research on maternal health disparities, infant mortality, SMM, reproductive health and social justice, and the impact of HIV/AIDS on Black women. She is the founder and director of the Maternal Outcomes for Translational Health Equity Research (MOTHER) Lab, the largest research lab in the country, which trains and develops the next generation of maternal health scholars, clinicians, birth workers, and advocates. She is also the principal investigator of two multi-year studies on maternal mortality and morbidity, including an R01 research project funded by the National Institutes of Health and an interdisciplinary grant on health equity funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

As a 16-year-old growing up in Trenton, N.J., Amutah-Onukagha’s childhood friend died due to pregnancy-related complications. The experience guided the trajectory of her life and ignited a fire for addressing health disparities for all women. 

“This appointment is a continuation of my work and mission to dismantle the structural racism that pervades our healthcare system and change public policies, institutional practices, and cultural representations to bring about equity,” she says. 

As additional evidence of her alignment with the committee’s mission, Amutah-Onukagha points to the ACIMM’s history of providing counsel on significant programs and structural changes, such as the Title V MCH Block Grant Programthe Healthy Start program, and maternal and infant health objectives from the Healthy People 2030 Objectives.

“How do we make these programs stronger? How do we leverage this progress and extend it to every neighborhood across the U.S.? How do we extract, review, and analyze real-time data to save lives now?” she asks. “These are the questions I come to the table with, and I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”