February 27, 2023

Article at Quartz

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Giving birth in the US is becoming a deadlier affair

Image for article titled Giving birth in the US is becoming a deadlier affair
Photo: Kevin Lamarque (Reuters)

That the US is a deadly country for new mothers, particularly Black mothers, has become a well-known fact. In the past few years, the issue has been addressed by a series of policy proposals, campaign statements, and even a dedicated Black Maternal Health Week.

But these efforts are yet to reduce the unfathomable rates of maternal mortality in the country, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Giving birth in the US (where, in 2020, 21 women died of pregnancy-related causes per every 100,000 live births) is nearly twice as deadly as it is, on average, in Europe (13 deaths per 100,000 live births). It is almost seven times more dangerous than it is in some of the best-performing countries, such as Spain (3.4 per 100,000 births).

The situation is even more dire for Black mothers, whose risk of pregnancy-related death (55 per 100,000 births, according to the US Government Accountability Office) is more than four times higher than in Europe overall, and 16 times higher than in Spain.

Graphic: Chart via WHO/MMR

A worsening problem

The WHO report released last week, which tracked worldwide maternal mortality trends between 2000 and 2020, doesn’t just show the US as an outlier among rich countries—it shows that the trend of maternal mortality in the US continues to move opposite to the rest of the world. Even in regions such as Africa or Southeast Asia, where maternal mortality numbers remain, on average, much higher than in the US, the rates have been steadily declining.

On the contrary, they have continued to increase in the US.

Graphic: Chart via WHO/MMR

In Africa, maternal mortality has decreased from nearly 800 every 100,000 births in 2000 to 531 in 2020—a reduction of more than 30%. In Southeast Asia, the decline has been even more drastic, from almost 400 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020 to just over 100—a reduction of 70%.

In the US, meanwhile, the trend has gone the opposite direction, with the mortality rate increasing relentlessly since 2000. During that span, only in 2010 was maternal mortality was lower than the year prior. The rate started increasing again steadily in 2011.

Graphic: Chart via WHO/MMR

More recently, things have gotten even worse: The mortality rate climbed from 12 per 100,000 in 2020 to 21 in 2022, an increase of 75% percent.

Graphic: Chart via WHO/MMR

These are conservative estimates, developed by the WHO with other international organizations. Official US data for 2020 puts maternal mortality rates at an even higher value: 23.8 per 100,000 births.

In 2021, with covid as a contributing factor, the official U.S. rate went up to over 32 per 100,000 births. In the same period, maternal mortality for Black women rose to nearly 69 per 100,000 births, barely clearing the target of 70 per 100,000 births that the United Nations has set for world—which, of course, includes many countries far poorer than the U.S.

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