Pregnancy-related deaths among American mothers rose in the first year of the pandemic, continuing a decades-long trend that disproportionately affects black people, according to a government report released Wednesday.
Overall in 2020, there were almost 24 deaths per 100,000 births, or 861 deaths in total – figures that reflect mothers who died during pregnancy, childbirth or the following year. The rate was 20 per 100,000 in 2019.
Among blacks, there were 55 maternal deaths per 100,000 births, nearly triple the rate among whites.
The National Center for Health Statistics report does not include the reasons for this trend and the researchers said they have not fully considered how COVID-19, which increases the risk of serious illness in pregnancy, could have contribute to it.
The coronavirus could have had an indirect effect. Many people postponed medical care at the start of the pandemic for fear of catching the virus, and virus outbreaks have strained the healthcare system, which could impact pregnancy-related deaths, said Eugene Declercq, a professor and researcher on maternal death at Boston University. School of Public Health.
He called the high rates “terrible news“ and noted that the United States has consistently performed worse in terms of maternal mortality than many other developed countries.
Pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births fell from 44 in 2019 to 55 in 2020 among blacks and from 13 to 18 among Hispanics. The 2020 rate among whites, 19 per 100,000 births, remained essentially unchanged.
The reasons for these disparities are not included in the data. But experts blamed many factors, including differences in rates of underlying health conditions, poor access to quality health care and structural racism.
“This is incredibly sad and especially scary news for black women,” said Dr. Laura Riley, chief OB-GYN at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
Dr. Janelle Bolden, assistant professor of OB-GYN at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the report was not surprising.
“The pandemic has revealed disparities in access to care, quality and delivery of care. It also laid bare the lack of support for public health and social agencies that many people rely on for their basic needs,” said Bolden. “These disparities and inadequacies lead to poor care and poorer outcomes.”
The maternal mortality rate in the United States has more than tripled in 35 years. Ten years ago, it was 16 deaths per 100,000 births. It has climbed alongside rising rates of obesity, heart disease and caesarean sections, all of which increase the risks for people giving birth.
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