- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Deaths due to pregnancy are increasing in the U.S., and health specialists are calling for better health care access, particularly for minorities who are largely impacted, to reverse the trend.

“This is a national crisis. We are losing women. And the fact that women are dying when they shouldn’t be in the best time of their lives is a problem,” Dr. Nereida Correa, a board member of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said Wednesday at a panel discussion at the Cannon House Office Building.

About 700 women in the U.S. die each year from pregnancy or its complications, with large disparities between racial groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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CDC data released in September shows that black and American Indian/Alaska Native women had significantly higher pregnancy-related deaths than white, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander women did from 2007 to 2016.

During those years, a total of 6,765 pregnancy-related deaths occurred in the U.S., about 16.7 deaths per 100,000 births. Black women had a maternal mortality rate of 40.8 deaths per 100,000, triple the rate for white women.

American Indian and Alaska Native women had a rate of 29.7 deaths per 100,000 births, double the rate for white women.

Over the last three decades, pregnancy-related deaths, defined as death during pregnancy or within a year after pregnancy, have more than doubled.

Since 1987, pregnancy-related deaths have steadily increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births to 17.2 per 100,000 in 2015.

“The sad reality is that our country is the most dangerous country in the developed world in which to give birth,” Dr. Kelle Moley, a gynecologist and chief scientific officer of March of Dimes, said at Wednesday’s event.

Some reasons for pregnancy-related deaths include preexisting medical conditions, blood clots, abortion complications, obstructed labor and other direct causes, severe bleeding, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure and infections from mostly after childbirth.

Accessing the right health care services, a barrier for many women, is one of many factors that could impact maternal mortality.

More than 5 million women live in “maternity care deserts” or areas where maternity health care services are limited or absent, says a report by the March of Dimes. An estimated 150,000 babies are born to women living in maternity care deserts. Many of these maternity care deserts were located in minority communities or in rural areas lacking health care services, according to Dr. Moley.

To help reduce maternal mortality rates, Dr. Correa said the nation should model after integrative health systems in states with lower death rates such as California and prolong postpartum care from six weeks to a year.

Hospitals can better train medical staff to address life-threatening complications from pregnancies through drills, Dr. Moley said. She noted the need for access to women’s health services for many communities.

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