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US maternal death rate climbed in 2019 with enduring racial disparities: federal data

US maternal death rate climbed in 2019 with enduring racial disparities: federal data
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The U.S. recorded a climb in its maternal death rate from 2018 to 2019, and racial disparities in the data remained, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published Thursday.

The National Center for Health Statistics documented 754 maternal deaths in the country in 2019, reaching 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. This represents an increase from the 2018 levels of 17.4 fatalities per 100,000 live births. 

The report notes that the data comes from the National Vital Statistics System.

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The World Health Organization defines a maternal death as a fatality of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days after their pregnancy “from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”

When broken down by race, non-Hispanic Black women had 44 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019, amounting to 2.5 times more than non-Hispanic white women and 3.5 times more than Hispanic women. Those who identified as Native American or multiracial were not broken out from the total data.

Only non-Hispanic white women experienced a statistically significant increase in their maternal death rates, reaching 17.9 per 100,000 live births. Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women’s rates did not face a statistically significant increase from the previous year. 

As the age of the mother increased, the maternal mortality rate rose, with those aged 40 and more having six times the rate compared with women under 25. Those older than 40 reached 75.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, while those under 25 saw 12.6 per 100,000 live births and people ages 25 to 39 documented 19.9 per 100,000 births. 

“Maternal mortality rates fluctuate from year to year because of the relatively small number of these events, and possibly also due to issues,” the report said. “Efforts to improve data quality are continuing and these data will continue to be evaluated for possible errors.”

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The CDC has labeled two-thirds of maternal deaths as “preventable” as the U.S. struggles with the highest maternal mortality rate among 10 other highly developed countries, according to The Commonwealth Fund's analysis of data from 2018. That research determined the U.S.’s rate was more than double France’s, the runner-up in the study. 

Concern over racial disparities in health care has been mounting with three Black lawmakers introducing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, which focuses on reducing inequities in Black mothers’ treatmentThe legislation is similar to a bill proposed in 2020 and has been referred to congressional committees.

The rise in maternal fatalities came in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., which has infected more than 30 million and killed more than 552,000 in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University.