Mar 22, 2023 - News

Maternal mortality rate spike, disparities continue

U.S. maternal mortality rates, by race/ethnicity
Data: CDC. Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. spiked in 2021, with deaths disproportionately impacting Black women.

Why it matters: The U.S. still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and previous research has largely attributed that to an outsized prevalence among Black mothers, Axios' Tina Reed reports.

Driving the news: More than 1,200 women died during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth in 2021, a 40% increase from 2020, according to data released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics.

  • In 2020, 861 women died during pregnancy or shortly after, compared to 754 women in 2019.

Context: Maternal mortality rates climbed during the pandemic, likely due to COVID-19 itself and the pandemic's impact on delaying care for other conditions.

Between the lines: There are stark racial disparities in the maternal death rate, according to the data.

  • In 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to a rate of 26.6 per 100,000 for white women.

Zoom in: In Harris County, the maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 54.85 per 100,000 live births. For Black mothers, the rate was 106.01 per 100,000 live births, according to the Harris County Public Health.

  • Plus: From 2016 to 2020, Precinct 1 — which consists predominantly of communities of color — had the highest maternal mortality rate among other precincts at 56.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the 2021 Harris County Public Health Leading Causes of Death report.

What they're saying: "The Texas Medical Center sits in Harris County, and it's a little bit astounding that unfortunately we still have some of the highest rates of Black maternal and infant mortality," Ericka Brown, director of the Community Health and Wellness Division at Harris County Public Health, told Community Impact last year.

  • She also notes that the state's elevated maternal mortality rate is correlated to its high rate of uninsured residents and other barriers to care that underserved communities face.

The intrigue: The Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee report, released in December, estimates that up to 90% of the deaths in the state may have been preventable, per the committee review of 2019 data.

What we're watching: Last summer, Harris County launched a $7.75 million home visitation pilot program aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality, per Community Impact.

  • The five-year program, which will focus on Black mothers, will pair around 300 mothers with community health workers to provide access to both prenatal and postpartum care.

Go deeper: Mothers in states with abortion bans nearly three times more likely to die.

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