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Maternal deaths and disparities increase in Mississippi

Brittany Lampkin of Yazoo County, extolls the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable legislative agenda which includes extending postpartum coverage for Medicaid recipients up from the current 60-day window to 12 months, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, during a news conference at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. A three-time mother, Lampkin related her personal experiences as evidence for the need of greater health care and support for mothers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis).

JACKSON, Miss. – Deaths from pregnancy complications have become more prevalent in Mississippi, and racial disparities in the health of those who give birth have widened in recent years, according to a report released Thursday by the state’s Department of Health.

The Mississippi Maternal Mortality Report shows that the maternal mortality rate increased by 8.8% between 2013‐2016 and 2017‐2019, with the latter period being the most recent one analyzed by researchers.

Black, non-Hispanic women had a rate four times higher than white, non-Hispanic women. Meanwhile, the rate increased by 25% for Black women while falling 14% among white women. Of the maternal deaths directly related to pregnancy, 87.5% were determined to be preventable.

The grim figures arrive as the state is expecting more births each year as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had established a nationwide constitutional protection for abortion. The court used a Mississippi case to overturn the case, a legal effort the state’s leaders have lauded.
Mississippi’s Republican-controlled state legislature has been debating whether to extend Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year after childbirth, a policy supported by State Health Officer Dr. Dan Edney and some other leaders.

“It is imperative that we take care of our most vulnerable populations now,” Edney said Thursday in a statement. “This is the only way we can move Mississippi’s health status off the bottom of the chart.”.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has also supported extending postpartum coverage, a position that puts him at odds with state House Speaker Philip Gunn, a fellow Republican.

“We won the pro-life case and now we don’t want to take care of our moms? I can’t understand how you are able to make that kind of argument,” Hosemann said at a Jan. 18 news conference.

State senators voted last year for an extension, but it failed in the House amid opposition from Gunn. The speaker has said this year that he would back it only if it is supported by the state Division of Medicaid.

To compile the report released Thursday, a committee of doctors and nurses reviewed 93 deaths, 40 of which were determined to have been pregnancy‐related. It found that 42.5% of the maternal deaths it identified occurred more than 60 days but less than one year after delivery.

Additionally, the committee found that 82.5% of the women who died due to pregnancy complications between 2017 and 2019 were Medicaid recipients.

According to the report, most of the deaths among Black, non-Hispanic mothers were attributed to cardiovascular conditions. Edney said increased access to healthy foods could reduce the prevalence of health issues that lead to cardiovascular disease.

Advocates from the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, an advocacy group, gathered at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to extend postpartum coverage.

“Women of color in our state have some of the country’s highest infant and maternal mortality rates,” said Cassandra Welchlin, the group’s executive director. “We will not only be changing policy, but we’ll also be saving precious lives.”
At a Jan. 13 legislative hearing, Edney said the state doesn’t have the medical workforce to address a wide range of poor health outcomes. Mississippi has the nation’s highest fetal mortality, infant mortality and pre-term birth rates.

Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

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Pope in Hungary meets with Ukrainian refugees, Russian envoy

Pope Francis plunged into both sides of Russia’s war with Ukraine on Saturday, greeting some of the 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border to Hungary during a public prayer service and then meeting privately with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church that has strongly supported the war.

Francis maintained the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality during his second day in Budapest, where he’s on a weekend visit to minister to Hungary’s Catholic faithful.

Starting the day, he thanked Hungarians for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and urged them to help anyone in need. He called for a culture of charity in a country where the prime minister has justified firm anti-immigration policies with fears that migration threatens Europe’s Christian culture.

Speaking in the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s church, named for a princess who renounced her wealth to care for the poor, Francis recalled that the Gospel instructs Christians to show love and compassion to all, especially those experiencing poverty and “even those who are not believers.”

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help to uproot the evils of indifference and selfishness from society, from our cities and the places where we live — indifference is a plague —- and to rekindle hope for a new, more just and fraternal world, where all can feel at home,” he said.

Hungary’s nationalist government has implemented firm anti-immigration policies and refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.

The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians.

While Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country found open doors. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.

One who has chosen to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse who worked in a Kyiv COVID-19 hospital when she fled with her mother and two daughters on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

First she went to the Netherlands, but high costs compelled her to move to Hungary, where she said she has found an apartment and given birth to her third daughter, Mila, who was in the pews Saturday with her mother and sister.

“Here it’s safe,” Misiats said of her new life. She said that she hopes to return to Kyiv one day, but for now she and her children are adapting. “I want to go back home. There it’s my life — it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

Immediately after greeting and encouraging the refugees, Francis visited the Greek Catholic church next door, which has been providing aid to refugees. And then he met with the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion, who developed close relations with the Vatican during his years as the Russian church’s foreign minister. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

The Russian church’s strong support for the Kremlin’s war has rankled the Vatican and prevented a second papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had a 2016 encounter in Cuba that marked the first between a pope and the head of the Russian church. They had planned a second one in June, but the meeting has been indefinitely postponed over Kirill’s support for the war.

In a statement, Hilarion’s office said that he briefed Francis on the social and educational activities of the Russian church in Hungary and its relations with the Catholic Church here. He said that he gave the pope an Italian translation of a six-volume opus on the life of Christ.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, is bringing him as close as he’s come to the front lines of the war. Upon arriving in Budapest on Friday, he denounced the “adolescent belligerence” that had brought war back to European soil and demanded the EU recover its values of peaceful unity to end

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As battle for Sudan continues, civilian deaths top 400

– Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas in and around the capital, residents reported that shops were reopening and normalcy gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking houses.

Now in its third week, the fighting has wounded 2,023 civilians, the syndicate added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people, the Doctors’ Syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once-euphoric hopes for a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped oust former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.

Britain meanwhile was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes declined. The United Arab Emirates announced Saturday it had started evacuating its own citizens along with nationals of 16 other countries.

Over 50,000 Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — have crossed over to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years while a 2021 coup has derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.

Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on their way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.

“There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. That could get worse in the coming days.”

Airlifts from the country amid the chaotic fighting also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane even hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday — despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure early Friday — clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

But in other areas, residents reported signs that the cease-fire had taken hold.

“We are not hearing the bombs as we did before, so we’re hoping that this means they will go back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, a columnist and editor of the daily al-Tayar, who assessed it was safe enough on Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a far-flung village.

But Khartoum residents are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants have moved into civilian homes and taken over stores and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even transformed Mirgany’s newsroom into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also must cope without sufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.

“For the past 14 days we’ve suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.

Residents in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting at least three days to get fuel — complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. Genena’s main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, Sudan’s health ministry said.

“This is unacceptable — and prohibited under international law,” Griffiths said.

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Will you marry me?’ Bulgarian woman contacts News 6 to expose international romance scheme

A 52-year-old Bulgarian woman currently working in Ireland is the latest target of international imposters who use stolen photos of a handsome Carnival Cruise Line officer in an online dating scheme that steals victims’ money.

Alessandro Cinquini, 29, who is known on dating sites as “Alex the Officer,” first contacted News 6 in March 2022 when he discovered his photographs were being used to fool women from Florida to India.

Vanya Dimova contacted News 6 after seeing our reports about Cinquini on the web.

She said an Alex imposter sent her photos and videos of lavish gifts that included a shimmering engagement ring.

Alessandro Cinquini has gone public to warn women across the globe that imposters have stolen his photographs from social media platforms to create “catfish” style profiles that offer love but target money.

News 6 sent 15 questions to her in advance so Dimova could translate and prepare responses during a Zoom interview.

She said she met the Alex imposter on Instagram back on March 26. According to Dimova, the conversation went from casual to romantic very quickly.

“After two days, he told me he was in love with me,” Danya told News 6. “Every day, he tell me he want to buy a house in Bulgaria and live together.”

Cinquini told News 6 the imposters have never stopped using his photos and he assured us he never contacted Dimova.

They have my old pictures from my old life,” Cinquini said. “Most of those pictures aren’t on my Instagram anymore. I canceled them years ago.”

He told News 6 he currently works as a fleet operation center watch officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

Danya sent News 6 a voice message from a man claiming to be Alex.

“I love you, I love you,” the man said.

The voice sounded nothing like Cinquini

Danya said that voice recording was the only evidence she has. She never met the imposter face-to-face or spoke to him on FaceTime or Zoom.

Danya said she became suspicious when the imposter asked her to pay the shipping charges for her gifts. He sent her a Bank of America receipt to prove his account had been frozen.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams in the U.S alone netted an estimated $1.3 billion last year, impacting 70,000 men and women.

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