Alone among developed nations, the US maternal mortality rate is rising. Here’s how we can fix that

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Across the United States, on any given day, more than 10,900 babies are born. Around 4 million American women give birth each year. On what should be an otherwise joyful occasion, on average twice a day, a new mother will die. The United States is home to some of the most advanced obstetric and emergency care found on earth, yet we still rank only 47th for maternal mortality rate globally and have the highest percentage of maternal deaths of any developed nation.

While the world has made tremendous strides to improve health outcomes for women and mothers, resulting in plummeting global maternal mortality rates, the United States has actually seen an increase in maternal deaths between 2000 and 2014. We are not in good company—the U.S. is one of only eight nations, and the only industrial nation, that have seen rising maternal mortality rates in recent years.

{mosads}The most common causes of maternal death and serious pregnancy-related complications are treatable with quality medical treatment. With diligent care, conditions like obstetric hemorrhage and preeclampsia are serious but do not have to be fatal. Early response to symptoms like high blood pressure can prevent conditions from becoming life-threatening during labor while access to equipment like hemorrhage carts to treat obstetric bleeding can prevent tragedy. According to the CDC, 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. While our nation spends $3.3 trillion on health care each year, how can we accept a single preventable maternal death?

Amid this disturbing crisis, data collection on pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated death is so scarce that federal public health officials have not published an official rate of maternal mortality in a decade. Instead, we are forced to rely on estimates and state data of varying quality. Without quality data, we can never hope to address the root issues facing maternal care in the United States.

It is time to make mothers a national priority. That is why we are proud to have worked together on the bipartisan Preventing Maternal Deaths Act. This bill would support states in establishing Maternal Mortality Review Committees to determine why women are dying from pregnancy-related causes. The committees would identify trends and risk factors, and develop recommendations for appropriate interventions to reduce these tragic incidents in the future.

Currently listing over 130 co-sponsors and a companion bill in the U.S. Senate, we are hopeful that this life-saving bill will move through Congress swiftly. This is not a partisan bill; everyone cares about this issue because you either are a mom or you have a mom.

Created in conjunction with patient advocates, doctors and health care providers, and public health experts, this plan will gather much-needed data to support the good work already being done at the state level to curb pregnancy-related illness and death.

We’re dealing with a national calamity that needs to be tackled on multiple fronts. Therefore, Congress is considering other measures to address this issue as well, including another bipartisan bill, the Ending Maternal Mortality Act. This legislation would require federal health officials to develop a National Strategy to Combat Maternal Mortality, with the goal of halving the rate of maternal mortality in the next decade and eliminating preventable maternal deaths entirely in the next 20 years.

As every community across the nation sees the effects of the opioid epidemic, the plan would also work to improve treatment services for expectant mothers struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. 

The time has come for an ambitious plan to stem the rising tide of tragic death and illness our nation is facing. Eliminating all preventable maternal deaths is a lofty goal to be sure, but that is precisely why our nation should pursue it. We cannot be satisfied until we have the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world and we can prevent any woman from dying in childbirth due to preventable conditions for lack of proper care.

We must start by listening to women, valuing their health, and taking dramatic action to end this crisis before we lose more of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones to preventable causes.

Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican, represents the 3rd  District of Washington and Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, represents the 8th District of Illinois.

Tags Jaime Herrera Beutler Raja Krishnamoorthi
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