Amnesty International Reports High U.S. Maternal Death Rate "Scandalous"
The risk from complications of pregnancy has decreased about 99% during the twentieth century. However, according to a new report from Amnesty International, called “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA”, the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth in the U.S. is three to five times greater than in some European countries.
Every day, more than two women die of pregnancy-related causes in the United States, and the number has risen since 1987. The group reports that in 1987, the maternal mortality ration was 6.6 deaths per 100,000 births, but rose to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 births in 2006. Amnesty also notes that the risk of a woman dying giving birth in America is five times higher than that of Greece and three times higher than in Spain.
The group used data from multiple sources, including the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and found that approximately half of the pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. were preventable. Mortality was high as a result of health care system failures such as barriers to accessing care or inadequate care – nearly 13 million women of reproductive age (one in five) have no health insurance.
For example, black women in the U.S. are nearly four times more likely to die in child birth than white women. African-Americans have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy, a complication called preeclampsia. In addition, Amnesty says that over half of “women of colour” are uninsured and do not receive adequate prenatal care and that women who do not receive care are three to four times more likely to die.
As shocking as this seems, Amnesty International reports that the numbers may be falsely low. There is currently no federal requirement to report pregnancy mortality outcomes and data collection on the state and local levels need to be improved. However, several groups do provide surveillance data, including the CDC and the Joint Commission, a group that accredits hospitals and other medical organizations.
Nan Strauss, the report’s co-author said, “In the U.S., we spend more than any country on health care, yet American women are at a greater risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes than in 40 other countries.” Based on the report, the USA spends $86 billion each year on pregnancy and childbirth-related hospital costs.
Amnesty International USA executive director Larry Cox said, “Women should not die in the richest country on earth from preventable complications and emergencies.”
Amnesty International says that “maternal health is a human right for every woman in the U.S., regardless of race or income” and is calling on President Obama to create an Office of Maternal Health within the Department of Health and Human Services to improve outcomes and reduce the barriers to care, which would include the current health care reform that would potentially expand insurance coverage to provide comprehensive prenatal care. The report also stresses the need to address the current shortage of maternal care providers, especially in rural areas and inner cities.