Healthy Black children have higher post-op death rate, study finds

Researchers found a stark disparity in post-operative risks by race, and cited poverty and lack of access to health care as possible factors.

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By Sakshi Venkatraman

Even in otherwise healthy children, Black children are 3.5 times more likely to die within 30 days of surgery than their white counterparts, a new study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital found.

After reviewing hospital records of 172,549 healthy Black and white patients who underwent common surgeries from 2012 to 2017, researchers found a dramatic disparity in post-operative risks by race, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

Overall, 13.9 percent of children, from birth to 17 years old, developed complications, including cardiac arrest, sepsis, readmission or reoperation, within a month of surgery. But being Black meant a 27 percent greater chance of developing complications.

It also meant 8 percent higher odds of developing severe adverse effects post-surgery. And of the 36 deaths overall, 23 were Black patients.

“Despite ongoing improvements in surgical care and apparent rarity of postsurgical mortality, racial and ethnic disparities in postoperative morbidity and mortality remain significant and persistent,” the study said.

The study cited poverty and lack of access to health care as factors that might explain the disparity. Prior research has shown that health care inequalities are steep based on racial differences. Black people, particularly women, are routinely given less attention and credence by health care providers. These biases even extend to prenatal care, affecting unborn children and their families. Black people are also more likely to die during emergency surgeries.