The maternal death rate has dramatically decreased in recent decades worldwide. But in the U.S ., it has risen more than 26% .
When people think of women succumbing during childbirth, they don’t usually think of the United States. But according to a study published in 2016 in Obstetrics and Gynecology, the U.S. assured a 26.6% increased number of pregnancy and childbirth-related demises for women from 2000 to 2014. That’s a sharp contrast to other developed nations — and even much of the developing world — where maternal death rates have plummeted.
The U.S. is one of merely 13 countries where the maternal death rate is worse now than it was 25 years ago, according to journalist and prof Linda Villarosa, who has studied and written extensively about maternal mortality.
To set it bluntly: That’s abysmal.
The U.S. is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and expends the most on health care, which induces those statistics even worse .
As the only economically advanced nation not to ensure health care to its citizens, perhaps it’s not surprising that more mamas die here than in other developed world. Seems like a pretty simple equation really.
However, people in the U.S. spend an nasty plenty of money on health care to have that kind of outcome. In fact, Americans spend more per person than any other country — and not because they go to the doctor more. In the U.S ., we use doctors less and are hospitalized less frequently than people in other countries yet we pay far more for our care. We pay more to birth babies here too — and yet the maternal outcomes are an embarrassment.
Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are especially high for black women .
Part of why the maternal mortality rate is higher than expected is due to racial inequalities. For example, black women in the U.S. are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. And that’s not purely an economic issue; even wealthy black females have higher rates of maternal mortality than white females.
Why is that? According to Villarosa, “an inescapable ambiance of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead immediately to higher rates of child and maternal death” for black women. Combine that with surveys demonstrating implicit racial bias in health care — such as dismissing legitimate subjects of concern and symptoms voiced by black moms — and it appears that much of the maternal mortality problem comes down to the effects of racism.
The good news: Some countries have dramatically reversed those numbers .
While the statistics are depressing, there is hope — even within our current system. Some countries have tackled this issue by forming Maternal Mortality Review Committees( MMRCs ), which review every maternal death to ascertain cause and assess whether it could have been avoided. Data from these committees have shown that more than half of maternal deaths are preventable.
California shows how successful MMRCs can be at saving lives. California formed its MMRC in 2006 when maternal deaths in the nation were on the rise. As they discovered the more common, preventable reasons mamas were dying, they created interventions to specifically address them. Since then, California has reduced its maternal mortality rate by more than 55% — at 4.5 per 100,000 live births, it is now far lower than the national average.
There’s no reason the U.S. maternal mortality rate should maintain climbing. While we can’t save every mother’s life, we can and should do all we can to try.
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