The United States remains one of the most dangerous wealthy nations for a woman to give birth. Compared to other countries, the maternal mortality rate was twice as high in the US than in the UK, Germany and France; and three times higher than in Spain, Italy, Japan and several other countries,
Maternal mortality rose by 40% at the height of the pandemic, according to new data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2021, 33 women died out of every 100,000 live births in the US, up from 23.8 in 2020. It has consistently increased in the US since at least 2000. Yet the average maternal mortality rate among the 37 other countries accounted for in the data has declined over the same time period. The high cost of healthcare, coupled with glaring disparities across racial and socio-economic backgrounds, have kept the mortality rate in the US stubbornly high for years,
That rate was more than double for black women, who were nearly three times more likely to die than white women. Black Americans are disproportionately at the axis of all three points - they have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight in the US, and have a 20% higher chance of having hypertension. Yet the rate of uninsured black Americans remains two-thirds higher than white Americans. Black Americans in particular are often employed in low-income jobs that offer little-to-no health insurance coverage and minimal time off for maternity leave.
Joan Costa-i-Font, a professor of health economics at the London School of Economics, explained, the maternal mortality rate spike in the US in 2021 was the result of a "perfect storm" of events between a deadly pandemic, racial inequality, comparatively low health insurance coverage, and high health insurance costs.
"The insurance design is to be blamed for the excessive barriers that women [in the US] face when pregnant. It's basically a system that is not giving care to the ones most at need It provides great care to the wealthy but low income care is below standards...Lower income people in the US find themselves with higher needs, more disease, and less coverage," Costa-i-Font said.
Experts say the vast majority of maternal deaths happen shortly after giving birth, when many women are forced to return to work and are unable to continue with post-partum care.
Dr Rochanda Mitchell, a Howard University physician who specialises in maternal-foetal medicine and high-risk pregnancies, said, "During the pregnancy everybody is there, celebrating the pregnancy."
She added.,"But if most of our mothers are dying after delivery - then we need help after delivery." Dr Mitchell explained that until there is a vast overhaul of how the health care system in the US functions, the situation is unlikely to improve.
But without the systems in place to support employees of low-income jobs, many mothers are forced to ignore early signs of health concerns.
Some mothers, even those with health insurance, can be discouraged from seeing a doctor post-partum because of the potentially high cost and may wait until the most dire circumstances, she said, which in many cases can be too late.