Expecting a baby is supposed to be one of the most joyous times
of a woman’s life. But whether a pregnancy will end with a celebration or a medical
tragedy for the mom may hinge upon the color of her skin, according to a new
report by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC found that for 2011 through 2015, black women died of pregnancy-related causes at about three times the rate of white women. For non-Hispanic black women, there were 42.8 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births. By comparison, there were 13.0 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births for non-Hispanic white women.
The number of pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births
for women of other races and ethnicities was as follows:
All told, the CDC found that 700 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications. The high number makes the U.S. one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality is worse than what it was 25 years ago.
What Factors Contribute
to Pregnancy-Related Deaths?
In addition to examining pregnancy-related deaths from 2011
to 2015, the CDC also reviewed data from 2013 to 2017 provided by maternal
mortality review committees (MMRCs) of 13 states. Based on the state data, the
agency identified five thematically coded factors that contribute to
pregnancy-related deaths. They are:
Health Facility Factors
The CDC concluded that most pregnancy-related deaths are
preventable. This conclusion underscores the need to identify and implement strategies
to address the five factors that contribute to maternal mortality.
Prevention strategies recommend by the 13 state MMRCs include:
While the data is disheartening, public awareness of the
maternal health crisis faced by black women is rising due in large part to U.S.
politics and pop culture. The unprecedented level of recognition offers reasons
for hope that reforms will be forthcoming.
In particular, Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth
Warren (Mass.) have made tackling racial disparities in maternal health a core
component of their political platforms as they seek the Democratic presidential
In May, Harris introduced a Senate bill that, if passed,
would pump $25 million into establishing implicit bias training within the
medical profession. The bill also would set aside $125 million to be used to
identify moms with high-risk pregnancies and provide them with “the culturally
competent care and resources they need.” A similar bill introduced by Harris in
2018 did not receive a vote.
In April, Harris introduced a resolution to name April
11-17, 2019, as Black Maternal Health Week to raise awareness of the maternal
health crisis black women face in the U.S.
Warren has proposed a system — building upon lessons learned
from the Affordable Care Act — that would reward hospitals that show reduced
mortality rates for black mothers.
Also, tennis star Serena Williams shined a spotlight on
black women’s maternal health in a Vogue
magazine interview in 2018. Williams, who has a medical history of blood
clots and pulmonary embolism, shared her story of trying to convince medical
professionals to take her seriously when she recognized the symptoms of an
imminent medical emergency following the delivery of her daughter by C-section.
Fortunately, Williams got the life-saving treatment that she
needed. But the episode left many wondering how other black women — without the
benefit of fame and financial resources — fare when they experience life-threatening
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