By Allison Stevens
Friday, June 25, 2010
My mother survived childbirth dangers that would have killed her 100 years ago, giving me a keen appreciation for modern medicine. But an alarming number of U.S. women are still dying in an apparently anachronistic way. We need a U.S. action plan.
That rate puts us behind 40 other countries, even though we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world. And our maternal mortality rate is rising. It climbed to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 births in 2006 from 6.6 deaths in 1987, according to Amnesty International. Severe pregnancy-related complications that nearly cause death--called "near misses"--are also trending upward.
A global conference on maternal mortality held earlier this month in the nation's capital shined an international spotlight on this global pandemic.
Meanwhile, other activists have pushed the subject of maternal mortality to the middle of the G-8 conference in Canada, which is taking place today and tomorrow.
At the summit, governments will be urging donor governments, developing country partners, nongovernmental organizations and private organizations to reduce maternal, infant and child mortality by strengthening health systems in developing countries and improving access to health care.
As money and concern rises about maternal mortality in other parts of the world, it's also important to flag problems here at home.
On June 18 the New York Academy of Medicine and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a study of 161 pregnancy-related maternal deaths between 2001 and 2005.
Black, non-Hispanic women were seven times more likely than white, non-Hispanic women to die during pregnancy in New York City. Women 40 years and older were 2.6 times more likely to have a pregnancy-related death. Nearly 80 percent of the women who died had Cesarean sections. The death rate for women with no insurance was nearly four times higher than for insured women, and nearly half of all women who died from pregnancy-related causes were classified as obese.
Participants at the maternal mortality conference earlier this month repeatedly referred to the need to customize programs based on the differences among countries.
If this New York report is any guide to the overall U.S. situation our marching orders are clear: Focus on women who are black, or over 40, or obese, or uninsured.
Also, curb C-sections. For many women, a C-section can be lifesaving. But as the New York and other data increasingly demonstrate, that's certainly not always the case.
Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C.