While COVID-19 continues to dominate news headlines, another crisis lurks unabated and largely unaddressed: climbing maternal deaths. Among industrialized nations across the globe, the United States stands out as the most dangerous for pregnant women. Over 700 women die each year, 60% of them from preventable causes, during pregnancy or delivery. And Black women are 3 times more likely to die than White women.
Perhaps surprisingly, it didn’t used to be this way.
For much of the 20th century, the US enjoyed an almost unmitigated decline in its maternal mortality rate, driven by scientific advances and improvements in general living conditions. But in the late 1980s, that progress began to stall. The maternal mortality rate in 1987 was 7.2 deaths per 100,000 births; by 2017, that rate had more than doubled. Today, the US is the only country in the developed world to see its maternal mortality rate go up; American mothers are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their own mothers were. And it has the highest maternal mortality rate of any wealthy nation in the world.
What’s provoked such a dramatic rise in America's maternal mortality rates — just as the rest of the developed world has pushed its' down? Why are women of color disproportionately vulnerable? And what can we do, at the hospital level and the state and federal levels, to redress maternal health inequities?
Few are better poised to shed light on these questions than Dr. Elizabeth Howell, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Howell is a practicing ob/gyn and a nationally recognized leader in redressing maternal and child health disparities. And on today's episode, together, we begin to unpack America’s maternal mortality crisis.
For more, check out the below:
- to learn about the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act
- to watch Dr. Howell’s TEDMED talk
- to understand the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health’s (AIM) safety bundles, and
- to get a “primer” on maternal mortality in the U.S., from the Commonwealth Fund
And to learn more about Civic Rx, go to civic-rx.org.