Black Children Are 3.5 Times More Likely To Die After Surgery Than White Children

by Leah Groth
Black Children More Likely To Die After Surgery Than White Children, Study Says

A new study has found that Black children are more than three-times as likely to die post-surgery compared to white children

Over the last several years, it has been established that there are serious disparities in healthcare — especially when it comes to race. A new, eye-opening study reveals that these types of disparities don’t just apply to adults; and when it comes to common surgeries, Black children fare worse than white children.

The study, published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, found that Black children were about 3.5 times more likely to die within 30 days after a common surgery — including appendix removal and orthopedic operations — compared to white children. Researchers pored through national data from nearly 173,000 operations from 2012 through 2017, involving children younger than 17 who were considered healthy prior to surgery. They found that 23 Black children died within 30 days of surgery compared with 13 white children.

“Even among apparently healthy children, being AA [African American] is strongly associated with a higher risk of postoperative complications and mortality. Mechanisms underlying the established racial differences in postoperative outcomes may not be fully explained by the racial variation in preoperative comorbidity,” reads the study.

According to the study, about 13.9 percent of all children experienced post-operative complications, 5.7 percent had serious adverse events and 0.02 percent died. Adjusted odds ratios showed Black children had a 3.43 percent greater chance of dying, about 18 percent greater odds of post-operative complications, and 7 percent greater odds of serious adverse events.

“Generally, we expect that healthier patients should do well with surgeries. Healthy kids have low complication rates,” Dr. Olubukola Nafiu, lead study author and pediatric anesthesiologist and vice chair for Academic Affairs and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, explained in an accompanying news release, per USA Today. “The expectation should be that complication rates and/or mortality among healthy children won’t vary based on racial category – what we found is that they do.”

“This is racism,” said California pediatrician and public health advocate, Dr. Rhea Boyd, adding, “Racism kills people, including our kids, and I need a minute.” Boyd continued to tell CNN that “racism, not race, is a critical determinant of health. Racism makes people sick and contributes to premature death, even for our kids.”

An accompanying editorial in Pediatrics further explores implicit bias in healthcare. Dr. Nafiu explains that he hopes his study’s findings will prompt the healthcare industry to confront their own, adding that his next goal is to determine exactly what the disparities are. The biggest issue, however, is that his team doesn’t have access to the names of hospitals where patients in the data pool were treated.

“That’s important because we know that not every hospital has the level of expertise and the level of support when complications occur,” Dr. Nafiu explained.

There is one message Dr. Nafiu wants to make clear, though: Hospitals and surgery are still safe for Black children.

“Surgery is safe … mortality rates are low,” he said. “Our paper is not suggesting that African American parents should stop bringing their children to the hospital… we want to highlight differences to see what we can do so we can better serve the children that we care for.”