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Pregnancy-related deaths for U.S. mothers rose in pandemic’s first year, report shows

A government report released Wednesday showed that the number of deaths from pregnancy in the United States for mothers aged between 20 and 34 rose in the first year of the pandemic. This continues a trend that has been going on for decades thatdisproportionately impacts Black people.

In 2020, there were 24 deaths per 100,000 births or 861 deaths in total. These numbers reflect the deaths of mothers during pregnancy, childbirth, and the year following. In 2019, the rate was 20 for every 100,000.

There were almost three times as many Black mothers who died from cancer than white mothers.

Researchers said that the reasons for this trend were not included in the National Center for Health Statistics’ report. They also did not examine how Covid-19, which can increase risks for severe illnesses in pregnancy, could have contributed to it.

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Coronavirus may have had an indirect impact. People waited to seek medical attention early during the pandemic because they were afraid of contracting the virus. The virus surges caused strain in the health system which could have an impact on pregnancy-related deaths. Eugene Declercq is a professor at Boston University School of Public Health and a maternal death researcher.

He called high maternal mortality rates “terrible news” noting that the U.S. has a worse record than other developed countries in terms of maternal mortality.

The number of pregnancies-related deaths per 100,000 births increased from 44 to 55 among Blacks in 2019 to 55 in 2020, and 13 to 18 for Hispanics. The 2020 rate for whites was 19 per 100,000 births. This was basically unchanged.

The data does not include the reasons for these disparities. Experts have suggested that many factors could be to blame, including differences in the rates of underlying conditions, poor access quality healthcare, and structural racism.

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Dr. Laura Riley, chief OB-GYN at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York said that this is a very sad and frightening development.

Dr. Janelle Bolden is an assistant OB/GYN professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and said that the report is not surprising.

“The pandemic exposed the disparities in healthcare access, quality, and delivery. Bolden stated that the pandemic has exposed the inadequacies in public health and social services, which many people depend on for their basic needs. These inadequacies and disparities lead to poor care, and worse outcomes. 

In 35 years, the U.S. maternal death rate has tripled. It was 16 deaths per 100,000 births a decade ago. It has increased with increasing rates of obesity, heart disease, and cesarean section, increasing the risks to people who give birth.

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