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US maternal mortality rate highest in 60 years

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-17 10:13

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 (NCHS) 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 the number 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 of every 100,000 live births. In comparison, there were just 24 such deaths in 2020 and 20 in 2019. The numbers recorded in 2021, haven't 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 than the UK, France, and Canada, according to figures from The World Health Organization.

In 2020, the UK had 10 deaths per 100,000 mothers, France had eight per 100,000 and Canada 11 deaths out of every 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 Dr Chaniece Wallace, 30, died just two days after giving birth to her premature daughter Charlotte. She had pre-eclampsia, a blood pressure complication and delivered her baby by 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 the GoFundMe page. "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, high blood pressure and uncontrolled bleeding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

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

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

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, reports that 29 states and the District of Columbia currently have that rule in place. It wants more to join.

COVID-19 can also cause severe complications in pregnancy, a 2022 study found, especially if the pregnant women is unvaccinated.

The COVID-19 in Pregnancy in Scotland (COPS) study, done by a coalition of Scottish universities, looked at data from 87,000 women who were pregnant between December 2020 and October 2021.

They found evidence that unvaccinated pregnant women experienced stillbirths, newborn deaths and preterm births if they had the virus 28 days or less before their delivery date.

A report by the US Government Accountability Office echoed that of the Scottish report with data that showed 400 pregnant women who had COVID-19 had died in 2021.

The CDC has repeatedly recommended that women "who are pregnant, recently pregnant, who are trying to become pregnant now, or who might become pregnant get vaccinated against COVID-19".

Agencies contributed to this story.

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