U.S. Backslides on Maternal Deaths

Each year, International NGO Save the Children releases a report ranking the wellbeing of mothers and children in 178 countries around the world. An article at PBS Newshour breaks down the latest rankings, released last week, where Finland takes first place, Somalia comes in last, and the U.S. surfaces with an unimpressive ranking at #31.

The report offers some startling statistics. In Somalia, one in 27 women is likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause and one in seven children die before reaching age five. In contrast, in the United States, one in 2,400 women is likely to die in pregnancy or from childbirth-related complications, which puts the U.S. on par with Iran. Of the top ten countries on the list, all but one is European.

For the U.S., the ranking itself is not the most disquieting part—last year the U.S. ranked similarly, at #30. The Newshour article highlights this “troubling trend” revealed by the report:

The maternal death rate in the United States has increased more than 50 percent since 2000 — from one in 3,700 to one in 2,400. “Only 14 countries in the world made less progress than the United States on this indicator during the same time period,” the report says.

It is difficult to determine the causes behind the higher maternal deaths in the U.S., but racial discrimination is an important factor. African American women are dying at a far greater rate than women of other races and ethnicities. African American women are three times as likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. And maternal mortality rates are particularly high in cities and states with high Black populations. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, the rate is four times the national average--there are 62 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for African Americans, while the rate for white women is too insignificant to report at all.

These racial disparities cut across class and education. Nevertheless, access to reproductive health care is an important factor in maternal outcomes. Lack of adequate health insurance, poor quality of care, and socio-economic factors such as lack of childcare and paid maternal leave also affect maternal health.