US maternal mortality hits highest rates since 1965: report

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Maternal deaths in the US have risen to the highest rate in nearly six decades, a new report has revealed.

The number of mothers who died during or shortly after pregnancy rose to 1,205 in 2021 for a maternal mortality rate of 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, the National Center for Health Statistics said Thursday.

The new numbers marked a 40% increase from 861 maternal deaths in 2020 and 754 in 2019.

The troubling statistics are the country’s highest since 1965, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The CDC lists the leading causes of pregnancy-related death as hemorrhaging, cardiovascular conditions, and infection or sepsis.

A doctor uses a hand-held Doppler probe on a pregnant woman.
Maternal mortality is a troubling issue in US public health.

Experts say that COVID-19 also exacerbated the existing dangers, as pregnant patients faced greater risk of serious illness or death, as well as premature delivery and other complications. These perils increase if the patient is unvaccinated.

“It’s hard for us to speculate, but we did suspect that the pandemic would have an unfortunate effect on maternal mortality,” Stacey D. Stewart, president and chief executive of March of Dimes, told WSJ in February.

Maternal deaths among black patients remain especially high compared to other groups, with a rate of 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, or 2.6 times that of non-Hispanic white patients.

Bar graph of maternal mortality by age in the United States.
Maternal mortality by age in the United States.
National Center for Health Statistics

Dr. Veronica Gillispie-Bell, an OB-GYN at Ochsner Health in Louisiana, told ilmhunt this week that the racial gap is driven by social factors.

“We have to address the social factors that either are barriers to accessing care or that make your medical conditions worse coming into the pregnancy,” she said.

“This is not just about doctors in the hospital.”

A bar graph of maternal mortality by race.
Maternal deaths are especially high among black patients.
National Center for Health Statistics

Louisiana is one of the states currently working with the CDC to address maternal deaths by reducing racial disparities and implicit bias in healthcare, Gillispie-Bell noted.

“It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s going to be a while before we see the benefits of that change,” she explained.

Maternal deaths overall are also much higher in the US than any other high-income country. The OECD Health Statistics reported, for example, that Australia, Austria, Israel, Japan and Spain all hovered around 2 to 3 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020.

A sign that reads "Strong Babies, Healthy Moms."
Activists and scientists are trying to prioritize the troubling issue.

In fact, maternal mortality rates in the US rose 78% between 2000 and 2020 while dropping in most other countries, the WHO said.

“There is just no reason for a rich country to have poor maternal mortality,” Eileen Crimmins, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, told ilmhunt.

Donna Hoyert, a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics who authored the new reports, told the outlet that provisional data suggests that pregnancy-related deaths may have peaked in 2021 and declined last year.

“So hopefully that’s the apex,” she said.

The report comes after new data showed the US had fallen when measured against 200 other nations in a report on life expectancy, dropping 40 spots since 1950 to 53rd place.


US maternal mortality hits highest rates since 1965: report

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