Majority of U.S. pregnancy-related deaths are preventable

Four out of five pregnancy-related deaths in the United States could be prevented, according to a report published this week by the country’s health authorities, which records a very high maternal mortality rate, especially among black women.

The study analyzed the case of around 1,000 women, who died between 2017 and 2019 due to pregnancy or related complications, up to one year after childbirth. “This report paints a much clearer picture of pregnancy-related deaths in this country”said Wanda Barfield, official at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the country’s main federal health agency.

Some 22% of deaths occurred during pregnancy, 25% on the day of delivery or in the following week, and 53% up to a year later. The first cause identified, in 23% of cases, was a mental health problem (including suicide or overdose), followed by hemorrhage (14%) or heart problems (13%).

55.3 deaths among black women, compared to 19.1 among white women

The deaths were analyzed by committees of experts at the local level – made up of gynecologists, representatives of associations, public health, etc. – responsible for formulating recommendations. These committees had access to “various information in order to understand the circumstances surrounding each death” and thus be able for example “determining a link between a suicide or overdose and pregnancy”, explained to AFP David Goodman, of the CDC. Pregnancy or its consequences can, for example, aggravate a mental illness, make it difficult to access psychiatric treatment, or even cause pain leading to substance abuse or self-harm.

One death was considered “avoidable” if there was “at least a chance” to be avoided thanks to “one or more reasonable changes” within the health care system, or from the patient or her community. Among the recommended measures: better access to health insurance, improved pre and postnatal care, but also better transport solutions in order to be able to access the necessary care.

The maternal mortality rate has been rising in the United States for years, and it is now one of the worst among industrialized countries. In 2020, it stood at 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births, according to data published in February. A figure that covers strong inequalities: this rate was for example 55.3 deaths among black women, against 19.1 among white women.

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