The US Will Finally Address Its Horrifically High Maternal Mortality Rates
It has become a well-established, tragic fact that maternal mortality rates — how often women die during or immediately after giving birth, that is — have been, overall, on the rise in the United States for at least 30 years. Why is this the case?
Thanks to a landmark bill signed into law by President Trump, we may finally get a meaningful answer — and, more importantly, see tangible solutions to this crisis in the near future.
The Preventing Maternal Mortality Deaths Act will allocate $50 million in grants to be distributed over the next five years. Experts have lauded the bill as a “major step” toward curbing these preventable deaths.
Traditionally, infant and maternal mortality rates are viewed as a baseline for a nation’s level of development, as well as overall citizen health. Unfortunately, data continues to show that the U.S. has been at the forefront of developed nations for many years when it comes to maternal mortality. Meanwhile, most of the developed world has experienced declining rates.
Varying studies dispute the figures. CDC data from 2015 puts the toll at 18 American women per 100,000 dying from live birth; however, a more expansive study, which considers a wider range of birth-related deaths, suggests that the number of deaths linked to giving birth is closer to 26.4 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S.
By comparison, the UK has 9.2, Spain 5.6 and Finland 3.8 maternal deaths per 100,000, according to this second analysis.
Regardless of which estimate is most accurate, these statistics illustrate a profoundly concerning state of affairs in what is otherwise one of the most affluent, developed nations on the planet.
Digging deeper, though, another alarming reality emerges: Women of color are far more likely to die from live child birth than white women are.
For black women, per the CDC, the maternal mortality rate is 40 women per 100,000 compared to 12.4 per 100,000 for white women. Other women of color collectively experience 17.8 deaths per 100,000. This makes it unavoidably clear: Although American women generally experience an unusually high rate of maternal deaths, black women are dying far more frequently from childbirth.
And this finding indicates that race as a factor is, in no small way, crucial to understanding and solving this crisis.
Existing science shows that for black Americans, there’s a deeply racial bias that comes with their health care experience. One study, for example, found a surprisingly high number of medical students and residents — one half — agreed with at least one false statement about black patients, including that black people have thicker skin or that their blood coagulates more readily than that of white patients. Another study shows how medical staff often possess an “unconscious” bias against black patients, which in turn results in less time spent on doctor-patient interaction and fosters poor communication.
When it comes to obtaining prenatal care, socioeconomic factors like these significantly influence whether pregnancies and births face complications.
Though it’s shameful that the U.S. should be lacking so severely in this basic area of health care, the Preventing Maternal Mortality Deaths Act — although overdue — will finally spare women from wholly unnecessary deaths.
Originally published at Care2.com on Jan. 3, 2019.