Pregnancy-related deaths have risen in the first year of the pandemic

Pregnancy-related deaths for American mothers climbed higher in the first year of the pandemic, continuing a decades-long trend that disproportionately affects black people, according to a government report released Wednesday.

In all, there were nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020, or 861 deaths in total — numbers suggestive of mothers who died during pregnancy, childbirth or the year after. In 2019, the rate was 20 per 100,000.

Among black people, there were 55 maternal deaths per 100,000 births — nearly three times as many as whites.

The National Center for Health Statistics report doesn’t provide reasons for the trend, and researchers said they haven’t fully explored how COVID-19, which increases the risk of serious illness during pregnancy, contributed to it.
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The coronavirus may have had an indirect effect. Many people postpone medical care early in the pandemic for fear of contracting the virus, and virus spikes put pressure on the health care system, which could impact pregnancy-related deaths, said Eugene Declercq, a professor and researcher on maternal mortality at Boston University. University School of Public Health.

Read more:​​US death rate rose significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic

He called the high rates “terrible news” and noted that the US has consistently outperformed many other developed countries in maternal mortality.

The number of pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births rose from 44 in 2019 to 55 in 2020 among black people and from 13 to 18 among Hispanics. The rate among whites in 2020, 19 per 100,000 births, was essentially unchanged.

Reasons for those differences are not included in the data. But experts have blamed many factors, including differences in the degree of underlying health conditions, poor access to quality health care and structural racism.

“This is incredibly sad news and especially frightening for black women,” said Dr. Laura Riley, OB-GYN chief at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

dr. Janelle Bolden, an assistant OB-GYN professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the report isn’t surprising.

“The pandemic has highlighted the disparities in access to care, quality of health care and delivery. It has also exposed the lack of public health and social support that many people rely on for their basic needs,” Bolden said. “These inequalities and deficiencies lead to poor care and poorer outcomes.”

The maternal death rate in the US has more than tripled in 35 years. Ten years ago, that was 16 deaths per 100,000 births. It has risen along with rising rates of obesity, heart disease and cesarean deliveries, all of which increase the risk for people giving birth.

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