More American women are dying from pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country in the world. Let that sink in for a moment. The United States, for all its wealth and technology and highly skilled professionals, is the most dangerous developed country in the world for a woman to give birth.
Where deaths per 100,000 live births have dipped and remained below 10 in similar developed nations, it has skyrocketed to 26.4 in the United States over the past 15 years. And despite medical advances, maternal mortality has more than doubled in the United States since 1990.
A new investigation by USA Today, which cites data from The Global Burden of Disease: 2015 Maternal Mortality published in The Lancet and a similar NPR/ProPublica report from 2017, found that about 50,000 women are severely injured during childbirth and about 700 women die during childbirth or from childbirth complications every year. Half of these deaths could have been prevented, the study shows.
The leading causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhages and severe hypertension, which can lead to lethal loss of blood and stroke if left untreated. The investigation found a lack of funding, quality control, and standards of practice for maternal health.
Federal and state funding shows that only 6% of block grants earmarked for infant and maternal health are utilized to study and treat maternal health. In almost every state, hospitals including those with neonatal Intensive Care Units are unprepared for maternal emergencies. The lack of standard protocols and regular monitoring cause treatable complications to become life-threatening or even lethal.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not commented on the findings, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists addresses the disparity in maternal mortality among American women and those in other developed countries on its website. It also highlights the differences in maternal mortality based on race and socio-economic backgrounds.
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than non-Hispanic white women. Such was the case for Serena Williams, who had to undergo several emergency surgeries after the birth of her daughter due to blood clots and hematomas.
Serena Williams credits her insistence on a CT scan, her knowledge of her own body, and acting as her own health advocate for saving her life.
The one place in the U.S. where maternal mortality rates have not grown is California, where the maternal mortality rate has halved thanks to the adoption of safety measures, referred to as safety bundles.
Safety bundles are best practices, protocols, toolkits and other resources designed to improve the quality and safety of maternity care by improving the 4 Rs: readiness, recognition, response and reporting, explained Michael Lu, senior associate dean at George Washington University School of Public Health and former director of the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
Lu and his colleagues started implementing safety bundles in hospitals across California in 2006. By 2012, the maternal mortality rate decreased by 64% across all mothers and by 50% for African-American mothers. Its those early successes we had in California that led me to believe that theres something we can do about maternal mortality for the whole country, he said.
Hospitals, physicians, and American citizens need to make maternal health a priority in this country and patients should feel comfortable and empowered to advocate for their medical care.
For a helpful guide with lifesaving tips on how to advocate for your maternal health, visit https://www.gannett-cdn.com/experiments/usatoday/responsive/2018/maternal-harm/graphics/life-saving-tips.pdf.
There is no reason that a woman living in the United States in the 21st Century should die from childbirth.