Racial Disparities In Maternal Mortality Continue to Rise: Study

Maternal death rates were highest for Black women, particularly those seeking medical care in Southern states, researchers found.

Maternal deaths have more than doubled in many states over the past two decades, according to the findings of new research which highlights how certain racial and ethnic groups experienced more significant increases during that time.

Recent studies have shown that the United States has one of the worst maternal death rates among all wealthy nations, and problems have steadily increased nationwide, despite medical advances in treating pregnant women. However, most prior research has focused on data from the country as a whole, and not examined outcomes from certain states or among different groups of women.

In findings published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the University of Washington conducted an observational study using vital registration and census data in the United States from 1999 to 2019, looking at data from every state for pregnant or recently pregnant women between the ages of 10 and 54 years.

The researchers defined maternal deaths as any fatality among women while pregnant, while giving birth, or up to one year after giving birth. The deaths that occurred up to one year after birth were included, since there are a number of conditions that arise during pregnancy or childbirth that may result in later problems, such as hemorrhages, infections, heart conditions, and high blood pressure.

According to the findings, maternal death rates were consistently higher among Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native populations. However, researchers determined Black patients have the worst maternal death rates of any group in the U.S., especially among populations living in the South.

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This finding backs up previous studies, which have warned that women of color faced the highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths, with Black patients faring the worst.

The study also indicates Native Americans saw a more than a 150% increase in maternal deaths among Indigenous populations across five states since 1999, including Florida, Kansas, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Another five states saw an increase in maternal deaths by 93% or more. Those included Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas.

Maternal death rates were more than double for Latino patients in Indiana, Minnesota, Georgia, Tennessee, and Illinois.

Improved Healthcare for Minorities Needed

Health experts warn many racial and ethnic groups lack access to health care, and there are gaps in community care and insurance coverage. In addition, many patients experience implicit bias from doctors and healthcare providers who treat patients of color.

“Maternal mortality persists as a source of worsening disparities in many US states, and prevention efforts during this study period appear to have had a limited impact in addressing this health crisis,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers emphasize a need for improved healthcare before, during and after pregnancy. This includes improving access for all patients and improving surveillance for certain health risks.


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