Op-Ed: Black Birthing People and Babies are Dying at Higher Rates

Black babies are dying at three times the rate of other babies in their first year of life.

Black pregnant people are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than other Americans.


Let these two stark facts sit for a minute. Often these statistics are assumed to be a function of poverty and access to care, but the unequal death hold true across income and education levels. The research is clear: the stress of experiencing racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health are root causes of this gap.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything during the last year, it is that we must confront the fact that our communities of color have disproportionately shouldered the pain—and burden—of the inequities that exist across our systems.

Last week,  the Board of Supervisors proclaimed the week of April 11 to 17 as Black Maternal Health Week in Santa Clara County to raise awareness of the tragic outcomes experienced by birthing people of African Ancestry across this Country and locally in our own County.

Here in Santa Clara County, our Black Infant Health Program has been working since 1991 to address these issues to support Black pregnant birthing people and their infants. Partnerships with the Roots Community Health Center, the African American Community Services Agency, the Black Leadership Kitchen cabinet and others provide valuable services and supports to African Ancestry families to improve health.

So the problems are being addressed, but there is so much more to do. There is still little public knowledge of our nation’s Black Maternal Health Crisis—which is why marking this week is so important.

The good news is that scientists and journalists are bringing these facts to the forefront, thus allowing policy makers, community-based organizations, clinics, concerned citizens, and advocates opportunities to work toward improving birth outcomes for our parents and babies. It is possible: history tells us that there was a brief time when the infant mortality disparity along racial lines was almost negligible.

According to a 1989 journal article by Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone, the brief period between 1965 and 1970 was the only time in the U.S. that the infant mortality rate for Black babies declined sharply and stabilized nearly on par with White babies. During that time frame, death among black infants in their first year of life fell by 30%. The infant mortality rate for black babies held at 2.8 per 100 births and the ratio between black and white infant mortality was 1.6.

Experts say that infant mortality is an important indicator of a community’s overall physical health. That being said, between 1965 and 1970 was the healthiest time in U.S. history for people of African ancestry and today the indications are that the overall health of our African ancestry community is very poor.

The period between 1965 and 1970 was one of unique activism in our history demanding change and confronting racism. We should embrace the lessons of that period - both that dramatic improvement is possible, and that activism and confronting racism are essential. We all must do our part to advocate for change, educate ourselves on the connections between racism and health, and take tangible steps to improve outcomes.

As a member of the Board of Supervisors, I have committed to listening to experts and those with lived experience in this area of health services and to taking action on their recommendations. One key issue is building awareness of this dramatic disparity, not just among the African ancestry community that lives this story, but among healthcare providers, family serving agencies and community allies. But after awareness  must come action.

We must commit to expanding and resourcing the supports that are provided to pregnant and parenting families through programs like Black Infant Health, Roots’ Families First, and other programs that support wellness, community and advocacy for African Ancestry families. We must support legislative changes at the federal, state and local levels like the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021 that address systemic issues in our pregnancy and labor and delivery services through funding, data, workforce development and accountability.

And as one of those partners, Roots clinic will work alongside Supervisor Ellenberg and the entire Board of Supervisors to identify and implement solutions to alleviate and then eliminate this injustice here in Santa Clara County. It was done once before; we must demand that outcome again.

You can help in this work, too. Join us. Support our work. And bring others along with you.

Solutions to this problem demand fortitude, determination and focus—to all of which we commit without hesitation.

Susan Ellenberg is the Santa Clara County District 4 supervisor. Alma Burrell is the regional director for the South Bay at Roots Community Health Center. Opinions are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. Correlation does not always prove causation.

    Did you test against fatherless homes and infant mortality rate.

    Since the days of Moynihan one of the most clear example of systemic racism is the white progressive’s relentless attack on the black family.


    If one were honest, and not just virtue signaling, one would control for nonmartial birthrates and how that predicts infant mortality, drop out, incarceration, poverty rates. Their are scientific reasons children need their BIOLOGICAL father in their life. The idea that women need a man like fish needs a bicycle I guess may be true, but kids absolutely need their father, not just a man, in their life. Children are ten times more likely to be abused by a non biologically-related adult male in the home. No father is worse, epigenetically.

    Feminist – of either gender – that one is on you and you aren’t even ready to admit the problem.

  2. “the stress of experiencing racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health are root causes of this gap.” — Susan Ellenberg and Alma Burrell

    The above claim is a speculative explanation for a documented, health-related outcome. But how can we know if it is valid? One way is to look to a similar documented outcome and test the claim against it. Here goes.

    In young people, strength, speed, agility, and stamina are all affected by, and serve as a good measure of, the state of their health. In fact, because young people are the least likely to be seriously ill or die from disease, using them as a standard against which to measure good health should provide the highest level of accuracy.

    So, with a good measure to use against a sound standard, if we examine young African-Americans to see if “racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health” affects their health, what we find is that they dominate in sports that require the highest levels of strength, speed, agility, and stamina. In other words, not only is their health apparently unaffected by “racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health,” but as proved by athletic performance, the American culture provides, at least for those willing to take advantage of its benefits, the opportunity to achieve the highest levels of health.

    What we are left with is this choice: either we give race peddlers an exemption from logic and truth or we realize that people like Susan Ellenberg and Alma Burrell willingly twist, falsify, and exaggerate in their efforts to condemn American society.

  3. I am curious as to how the authors of this study disregard underlying health conditioins – which are objectively observable and measurable – in favor of the subjective ‘stress of experiencing racism etc’. It seems to me that the extremely high rate of obesity, for instance, might be a far more determinitive factor when examining mortality of African American newborns or mothers. According to HHS (https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=25) African American women have a higher incidence of being overweight or obese than any other racial group, at 80%. Is it not more reasonable to think that being overweight or obese – together with other attendant health issues such as poor cardiopulmonary or vascular health, diabetes, among others – might not have vastly more to do with these mortality rates?

  4. This nonsense starts as the usual liberal or leftist classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy among the many, with any and every possible Disparity [gasp] attributed to or blamed on racism, despite the facts. It gets no better, but worse, in this case, with an injection of “woke” and more examples how increasingly diseased the Left is. That includes the loony “birthing people” and “pregnant people” phrases in place of English. It continues to get worse if described more fully.

    San Jose Inside, please exercise quality control. Ironically, it involves the Left, who also likes to express its routine hatred and intolerance of dissent or worse, rejection, especially in favor of the correct or the superior, with suppression.

  5. Yes, it’s another example of especially diseased leftist politics infecting government, too, not just the mentally and morally susceptible in the general public.

  6. “Op-Ed: Black Birthing People and Babies are Dying at Higher Rates

    Black babies are dying at three times the rate of other babies in their first year of life.

    Black pregnant people are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than other Americans.”

    The sloppiness in the headline also could lead one to ask about birthing babies.

  7. PART I: Location, Location, Location

    The absent-minded and absentee landlords moralizing above on the importance of the blood-paternal nuclear family (with just a hint of Opus Dei), marveling at the apparent health and strength of Black men who survive childhood (with just a hint of slave trader envy) and shaming Black women regarding their body mass (with just a hint of the Jerry Springer Show), are forgetting the three most important things about their real estate business: location, location and location.

    Not only are they absent-minded, but they have serious memory deficits as well. Have they already forgotten more than a century of racialized and discriminatory practices by their industry co-conspirators–i.e. landowners, landlords, real estate brokers, bankers and homeowners’ associations–and those adopted by federal, county and city governments that have spatially segregated White, Hispanic, Asian and Black populations in this valley?

    (https://escholarship.org/content/qt2j08r197/qt2j08r197_noSplash_eecbec55456f21df8cb 302a7b292855a.pdf?t=qc30qt); https://www.sanjoseca.gov/home/ showdocument?id=50333; https://www.paloaltoonline.com; https://escholarship.org/content/ qt2j08r197qt2j08r197_noSplash_ eecbec55456f21df8cb 302a7b292855a.pdf?t=qc30qt; /news/2019/03/29/housings-troubled-history-of-discrimination)

    The result of race and class conscious policies of spatial segregation is that zip codes–specific locales–are strongly correlated with race, social class and/or income level. Locations likewise correlate with the relative quantity and quality of readily available private and public goods, services and resources. Consequently, where one lives figures decisively into, among other matters, health outcomes as research has consistently shown. To put it simply, are there good jobs, safe streets, public libraries and community centers, good schools, a healthcare facility, public parks or walking trails, supermarkets, pharmacies and/or hair salons within walking distance of one’s front door? The answer to this question tells us about the racial, class, income and social characteristics of the neighborhood’s residents, including public and personal health conditions and outcomes.

    (https://www.opportunityatlas.org/; https://eig.org/dci/interactive-map?path=state/CA; https://insight.livestories.com/s/v2/socioeconomic-status/23999fcc-baf6-4145-97d7-a979a981fc67/)

  8. blah, blah blah – word salad excuses

    Part deux – Racial segregation is an age old Democrat initiative as redlining was an FDR New Deal Initiative starting in 1934 – and ran through all four of FDR’s terms and Truman’s. Separating the family a Johnson Great Society initiative – and its continuation from the New Deal redlining to ghettoize blacks into projects, payed mothers to evict fathers from the home, and took black families off the property ladder. Castigating men as second class citizens was a second wave feminism initiative, lead by friend-of-CIA bottom-feeder Gloria Steinem.

    This is on you – and only you – as far as I’ve been a live my vote has had no power to help or hurt the poor. The only thing I have been able to do is house poor people in clean, safe, affordable places convenient to a job, to schools, and medical facilities – and that is FAR more than you have ever done or ever will do for any poor person.

    The systemic racism you prattle on about was baked in by your heroes, not mine.

    So if…

    We are all God’s Children and Matrimony is a Sacrament

    is oooohhhh Opus Dei oooohhhh, than so be it.

    To me that’s just traditional, conservative Common Sense.

    No father in the home, raising kids is just too hard, from pregnancy to graduation. Less money, more work, less prenatal visits, less safe, worse diet from exhaustion, busy-ness, and the food deserts PROGRESSIVES locked the poor into. Its not a race issue, it is a people issue. Single motherhood DOES NOT work on average for any race – no matter what BS words and deflection you spew. The only way you can raise a family IS TO BE a family, a nuclear family. Mom, Dad, little ones and maybe a dog to teach the kids responsibility. That’s ancient wisdom, not half-baked statistics and maps and the rest of your new left propaganda – old and tired as it is.

    And the progressives (YOU) have only to look in the mirror to find who is to blame for the destruction you have wrought. And the destruction is legion. The poverty you have caused, the abortions, the misery, the death, the suffering, when will you own up to it?




  9. PART II: The Devilish Details

    Mss. Ellenberg and Burrell point out that 1965-1970 was a significant turning point for Black health conditions in the U.S., especially for children, but fail to identify the reasons. The unidentified elephant between their lines is the 1965 adoption of Medicare and Medicaid, the first publicly-guaranteed healthcare programs in U.S. history (except for active-duty military, veteran’s and Indian Health Service healthcare).

    Spearheaded by the Johnson administration that had won an electoral landslide in 1964, the programs not only gave health care services to the poor (Medicaid) and to those 65 years and older (Medicare), the programs were established within one year and eliminated, almost overnight, segregation and separate treatment in healthcare facilities across the U.S. Activist government legislation, backed by massive fiscal expenditures and supported by thousands of civil rights activists on the streets, brought meaningful health relief to tens of millions quickly and smoothly.

    The Johnson administration quietly but firmly signaled that any resistance to racially integrating healthcare facilities–and almost all healthcare facilities were segregated or provided separate, generally inferior services to Black patients prior to 1965–would be confronted with the full legal and administrative force of the federal government. This included not only serving Black patients on an equal footing, but employing Black healthcare professionals without discrimination.

    As a result, within one year, healthcare facilities became the most racially integrated institutions in the U.S., an astounding achievement. Bold government action, combined with active support among the political/electoral base, accounted for very significant health achievements for Black Americans, in particular, but also for millions of Whites and others during that period.

    (https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/07/30/desegregation-the-hidden-legacy-of-medicare; https://khn.org/news/1965-the-year-that-brought-civil-rights-to-the-nations-hospitals/; http://www.lbjlibrary.org/press/media-kit/medicare-and-medicaid)

    It’s odd that Mss. Ellenberg and Burrell overlooked and omitted Medicaid and Medicare as the reasons behind the remarkable health achievements. Instead, they attribute the changes to “unique activism” and “confronting racism” but none of the details on how it was accomplished. Likewise, they are silent about the reasons for the post-1970 retrenchment in Black health outcomes relative to Whites. What happened to reverse the gains achieved by Blacks and how does the initiative address those obstacles? Could it be the neoliberal undermining of government services and functions over the half-century since 1970?

    Also missing is any larger vision that would guarantee prenatal, birthing, postpartum and general healthcare health care or, for that matter, guarantee universal healthcare for all Blacks in Santa Clara County. At the very least, they could, at the County level, replicate Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s initiative at the state level, to provide guaranteed healthcare to every Black Kentuckian who needed it on an expedited and preferential basis to address the gaping inequities in healthcare coverage and outcomes. But this would require serious legislation backed by progressive taxes on income and/or wealth.

    (https://www.npr.org/2020/06/09/873377543/governor-promises-to-provide-free-health-care-for-all-black-kentuckians-who-need; https://www.modernhealthcare.com/government/kentucky-governor-seeks-better-healthcare-black-communities; https://www.newsweek.com/kentucky-governor-outlines-plan-provide-health-care-coverage-100-percent-black-residents-1509499)

    From there, you can expand such programming to cover all County residents as a human right. Experts and lay people alike recognize guaranteed, universal and single-payer health care as the most cost effective and equitable way to attain this right. Hopefully, Mss. Ellenberg and Burrell will be as serious about these details as the situation requires.

  10. smh more hogwash

    no matter how many references you cite, on one can marry the state, the state is not your father

    you give the state power over your life chances and you are a slave

    NY/CA the best progressive examples the US has to offer only supply a pile of garbage to the poor – mold infested housing projects, education levels that “shock to conscience” protected by the unions – the state and its courts, junk food debit cards, and a homeless epidemic which sustains an NGO grift at a tune of $2500 a month per homeless

    you and your whole ideology is a failure and actually acts to hold these people down

    when will you people wake up and look at how your elite lives

    they get married, they stay married, they make sure their kids are educated

    yet they tell you not to feel bad about poor choices, that you have no agency, that nothing is ever your fault

    ECONOCLASTs of the world think you are weak, think you responsible, think you are less

    I hold, till my last breath, that is not true – you are as good as anyone else and your mistakes create your destiny – and you have the power to fix your path – not the state

  11. “marveling at the apparent health and strength of Black men who survive childhood (with just a hint of slave trader envy)…” — Econoclast

    Black men who survive childhood? Question: are there men other than those who’ve survived childhood? Let’s celebrate this glimpse into progressive asininity. Let’s digest just how far these passionate zealots will go as they try to convict and condemn America for its failure to manufacture socioeconomic equality from individuals and groups made vastly different by nature. Black men who survive childhood, how pathetic!

    In attempting to discredit an argument I posted earlier, Econoclast revealed a startling lack of reasoning ability. In defending the existence of an atmospheric condition authors Ellenberg and Burrell claimed was damaging and ubiquitous (“the stress of experiencing racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health”), Econoclast scoffed at my assertion that the superior health of many of those exposed to that allegedly ruinous atmosphere contradicted and disproved its existence. In other words, Econoclast insinuated that the tens of thousands of superior African-American athletes, many raised in poverty, somehow escaped exposure, or were immune, to decades of progressives’ favorite societal toxin, white racism. Of course, atmospheric exposure produces no exceptions, as so many Chernobyl workmen discovered and so many Soviet apparatchiks concealed.

    Econoclast is an enthusiastic practitioner of Pelosi’s brand of “science and data,” where science is any usable lie scripted in the legitimizing language of data.

  12. PART III: The Granular and the Glandular

    Apparently, the connections I tried to draw in PART I between the socio-economic conditions of particular locales and health outcomes were not clear enough for Kulak and the libertarian backlash bots’. Their eggshell White fragility cannot withstand the pressure of evidence of deep-seated racism in U.S. society. They become aggravated, agitated and anxious when presented with an opposing view or serious research. In addition to the shaking of heads and elevated blood pressure, the libertarians inevitably suffer from the release of stress hormones, an endocrinologic process akin to a fight-or-flight response. Psychological stressors–in this case, a perspective they cannot stomach–produce tangible and measurable physiological reflexes in their bodies.

    While stressors and stress are a normal part of life, when stress becomes a persistent, daily thing, it overwhelms the body’s ability to cope. The physiological systems that regulate glandular stress responses begin to fail, resulting in increased incidence of hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, heart disease and other associated maladies. Recent research has shown clear links between people regularly exposed to stressors such as poor housing, high neighborhood crime rates, unemployment and poverty, on the one hand, and poor health outcomes, on the other. Eliminating those conditions reduces stressors and markedly improves health outcomes (https://www.medicaldaily.com/chronic-stress-killing-people-poverty-women-especially-cdc-report-336170).

    But Black Americans’ health is not only damaged by disproportionate poverty. By stating “the stress of experiencing racism, discrimination in care and other unjust social drivers of health are root causes of this gap,” Mss. Ellenberg and Burrell are referring to a large body of research that has emerged in the past 35 years that shows everyday experiences of racial discrimination on the part of Black Americans create additional psychosocial stressors that produce physiological responses, i.e. glandular excretions of hormones, that lead to premature aging or “weathering.” This, in turn, can lead to depression, sleep loss, worse health and resulting coping behaviors that increase health risks such as overeating, drinking and smoking. This helps explain the especially dire health conditions of Black Americans and particularly those of Black women. This is the basis of Mss. Ellenberg and Burrell’s statement and their claim is firmly grounded in the research.

    (https://www.rwjf.org/content/rwjf/en/blog/2017/10/discrimination-is-a-health-issue.html; https://healthleadsusa.org/communications-center/blog/aspen-challenge-an-analysis-on-how-your-zip-code-determines-your-health-outcomes/; https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/interactives/ whereyouliveaffectshowlongyoulive.html; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470581/ pdf/0960826.pdf; https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/america-is-failing-its-black-mothers/

    But what they propose as a remedy falls far short of a sustainable and robust solution. As I noted in PART II, significant mitigation of healthcare inequities rooted in race, class and income can only come about with guaranteed and universal healthcare provision with no cost barriers. The only system that is of sufficient scale, cost effective and fiscally responsible is a publicly-financed single-payer one. Conceptually and practically, it would mean expanding Medicare to cover all healthcare services and all people, while eliminating premiums and out-of-pocket co-payments of all kinds. Only a policy response of such a scale would produce the types of significant achievements seen in the 1965-1970 period.

  13. Reads like a D+ sociology paper written by two Woke, and totally stoned, cranberry cocktail siping sorority sisters in search of finding some justification for their preconceived position.

    They seem to have forgotten the Watts Riots (1965), the DNC riots (1968), and possibly the biggest trauma to the civil rights movement, the murder of Dr. King (1968). Oh, and what about the Black Panthers who were formed in 1968, the draft and Viet Nam war? Talk about a stressful time for blacks!

    Here is a good read on the subject before the wretchedly wrong Woke arose from their crypts.


    Here is the article’s main takeaway:
    “Disparities in infant mortality weren’t solely split by race or ethnicity. Babies born in Mississippi were more than twice as likely as those in Massachusetts to die before their first birthday, for example. And the mortality rate was 89% higher among babies born to teenage mothers than among those born to women in their early 30s, the CDC data show.”

    Please, I am begging you, stop with the race baiting.

    Maybe the astronomically high number of the black teen birth rate has something to do with it?

    On second thought, D+ is to generous. ?

  14. This sounds familiar

    “Their eggshell White fragility cannot withstand the pressure of evidence of deep-seated racism in U.S. society.”

    So ECONOCLAST is Mr. Trouble

    Let’s be honest about a few things.

    One – racism is part of human nature, to deny it’s not the opening position is just ignoring the evidence. We believe and trust those we deem in our group more than those in the out-group. Two – racism is relatively easy to overcome because racism is born out of this in-group preference. And humans quickly dissolve and reform groups. If I see you on my team, a Yankee fan, a Republican, a 2nd Amendment advocate your race quickly disappears. EO Wilson explains this very well in The Social Conquest of the Earth.

    There is no doubt that the progressive ideology that goes back to FDR is racist. It may be broader than just race, let’s just say “out-group”, as FDR was highly motivated not only to use blacks as pawns, much of his policies were also anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic. No president was more anti-Constitutional than FDR either. The use of police powers to create redlining, instigating the great migration (which was not exclusively to “lynchings”) with government contracts, etc. were all weapons in a long war against individual freedom and non- White Protestant dominant group. FDR was a tyrant and he was wrong. Johnson, his heir, was equally damaging to blacks and America for that matter. It is hard to say which President has damaged America and Black Americans worse, Johnson or FDR.

    Ironically, much of the legal justification for Jim Crow and of course redlining which on the face seem Unconstitutional is the use of police powers. Police powers are and have always been an end-run around the Constitution and Prof Epstein lays this out in a way only he can below.


    To me, history will show Martin Luther King Jr as being one of the great Republican and Constitutional leaders in its history. He did not use nonsense as you and your CRT neo-segregationist compatriots use. MLK held the United States up against its ideals as showed how it was lacking. The ideals laid out in the Constitution are very hard to follow as with freedom comes much responsibility. You will never stop human nature, in-group preference is a real thing, and our laws can not just glean over that fact. Making the US a bunch of mini tribes will not make it better, as you endlessly contend, it will make it far worse – mostly for the poorest of those tribes. The only thing that can save them, and blacks specifically, is a true return to the Constitution.

    As expedient as police powers are in getting around the Constitution, they typically end up hurting the minority groups. Redlining, Jim Crow are but two examples. The Bay Area in its misguided attempt to settle all past injustices endless attacks the negative rights laid in the Constitution, which will only result in Redlining 2.0. Rent Control leads to ghettoization and an honest study of contract tracing and COVID will likely show higher transmission rates in rent-controlled units. And that’s just one negative outcome, insistence on “sparing” latinos the difficulty of buying a home will just result in them never building wealth. Ghettoizing latinos also has shown to result in an achievement gap – as union-protected bad teachers invariably get filtered to those neighborhoods while the higher-performing ones get filtered to Cupertino and Palo Alto. There was a nasty case recently that lays it out nicely. Intellectuals such as yourself in the future will point to rent control, opportunity housing, and housing projects as attempts by the rich ruling class to deny latinos, etc. property. And they will be correct. We are living Redlining 2.0 in real-time and it is being crafted around police powers, not the principles of the Constitution.

    The truth is there are higher truths. Family is the most important social unit in humanity, and our culture MUST prioritize the nuclear family. Science teaches us what faith reveals. Another truth is that humans are selfish, tribalistic, rationalizing animals by nature, and the Constitution and the negative rights that form its foundation is the best document ever written to deal with these base instincts when self-governing across a wide set of beliefs and ethnicities. As much as some will try to content, the Constitution does not establish the US as a white nation, actually the opposite, in my opinion, its principles make space for all races, even if the implementation is bad. The government must protect the individual from the hoard, the government must protect your property rights, the government must protect your freedom of religion, speech, and assembly, the government must protect your right to self-protection, even from the government, and frequently they must protect you from the dominate tribe.

    These weak attempts to try to legally prioritize tribes or convince them they are exempt from laws or biology (like immigration, obesity, and fatherless families) are not only as Unconstitutional and untrue as Jim Crow, redlining, or identity-based epistemology, they are doing permanent damage to the communities which they intend to help.

  15. Are they actually using “birthing people “ as a replacement for the word “mother?”

    So will rap singers have to change to “birthingf**ker?”

  16. LOL.. I got as far as “Black Birthing People” and realized the rest must be the usual Victimhood drivel.

  17. You know what was published in medical journals for decades up until the 1970s? Presumably read by thousands of doctors. The Tuskegee syphilis study. And they all knew about penicillin.

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