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US maternal mortality figure highest in 60 years

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-18 08:20

The number of maternal deaths in the United States has hit its highest level in nearly 60 years, as the number of women who have died in childbirth has reached alarming levels, data from the National Center for Health Statistics showed.

The data also showed stark differences in maternal mortality rates in the US depending on race and age. Black American mothers died 2.6 times more than white mothers in 2021. At least 30 percent of all maternal deaths were among black mothers.

The US is now the most dangerous high-income nation for a woman to give birth in as those who die during or after pregnancy soared by 40 percent in 2021 to 1,205 — a record high, as there were only 861 similar deaths in 2020 and 754 in 2019.

The numbers equate to 33 deaths for every 100,000 live births. In comparison, the figures were 24 deaths in 2020 and 20 deaths in 2019. The numbers recorded in 2021 have not been so high since 1965. The rise was most significant between 2000 and 2020, when they rose 78 percent.

Worldwide, the US has the worst maternal death rates among developed countries, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

In 2020, the United Kingdom had 10 deaths per 100,000 mothers, France had 8 per 100,000 and Canada had 11 per 100,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened mortality rates in the US. But even pre-pandemic, the country had some of the highest maternal mortality rates among developed nations.

In 2020, African American pediatrician Chaniece Wallace, 30, died just two days after giving birth to her premature daughter Charlotte. She had a blood pressure complication called preeclampsia and delivered her baby via C-section.

Her husband Anthony Wallace Jr wrote on a GoFundMe page that she died on Oct 20, 2020, postpartum after emergency surgery. The fundraising page helped raise $172,785 for the bereaved family.

"Chaniece fought with every piece of strength, courage and faith that she had available," Wallace wrote on GoFundMe.

"Although you are not with us physically, I will always carry you in my heart."

Some of the key complications in pregnancy that can lead to death include obesity and high blood pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Age is also a factor. Women aged 40 and over made up most of the deaths when compared to younger women. There were 138.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in this age range. That was 6.8 times higher than for women aged 25.

Figures showed that at least half of maternal deaths that occur in the US do so postpartum. It has sparked a campaign to ensure that pregnant women have access to Medicaid a year after giving birth.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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