We already know that women’s health is under attack in this country (see bans on abortion, potential restrictions on birth control access) and that the maternal health crisis and mortality rates are despicable compared to every other so-called “developed country.”
However, a recent government report shows that the numbers are even worse than we thought. The maternal mortality rates were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is especially terrifying for minority women, particularly Black and Latina mothers.
The report, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that the Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant jump in maternal death rates, disproportionately impacting women of color.
Death rates rose by 25% in 2021, with substantial increases in maternal deaths affecting Black and Latina mothers more than White women during these two years.
Maternal deaths each month rose to an average of 85 per month, compared to the mid-50s per month in the two years before the pandemic.
Those numbers were alarming for minority women in particular.
For Black women, the maternal death rate rose from 44 per 100,000 live births in 2019 to about 69 in 2021, and for Latinas, the number increased from 12.6 per 100,000 live births to 27.5 in 2021, which exceeds the death rates of non-Latina white women.
The peak number of maternal deaths was at the end of the summer of 2021.
A maternal health crisis
Sure, these might not seem like massive numbers on their own — but remember that experts agree that these deaths are preventable, which means that for these women who are dying during or after childbirth, their deaths could have been avoided with comprehensive healthcare.
Sadly, this isn’t a new phenomenon. The US has a perpetual high maternal mortality rate compared to other wealthy, developed nations. And it’s the only rich country not to have universal healthcare.
Time and time again, research shows that these deaths are preventable — if only these women, especially minority women, had the effective and comprehensive maternal healthcare they need before, during, and after childbirth.
Experts believe that the disproportionately high maternal mortality rate can often be attributed to disparities in healthcare, including but not limited to access to care, culturally competent care, language barriers, chronic illnesses, medical mistrust, and missed opportunities for preventative care.
While these numbers from the recent government study are not shocking, what is very alarming is that even though we are now aware of these scary statistics regarding maternal mortality rates, very little is changing.
Many women and doctors are searching desperately for answers.
The pandemic put pregnant women at risk and significantly impacted people in minority communities who were more at risk of being exposed to the virus and had more challenges in terms of access to healthcare, which is why experts stress the need for prenatal visits and a focus on the “zero trimester,” or the period before a woman is even pregnant.
“One of the most critical periods where intervention is needed and can have the greatest impact is pre-pregnancy, but is often limited due to fragmented health insurance or limited health care access,” explains Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
To see a shift in the worsening maternal mortality rates in this country, we need to do more to protect women before they are even pregnant, and we need to do more to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Access to contraception, access to quality healthcare, and a focus on “knowing your numbers” is crucial — protecting heart health by knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, and more is incredibly important in protecting maternal health.