US Has the Worst Maternal Mortality Rate in the Developed World
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US Has the Worst Maternal Mortality Rate in the Developed World


Kristin Marlowe, 20, was seven months pregnant and being treated for a placental tear at Springfield Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo., when she died of a stroke on Aug. 8, 2012. Doctors are unsure what caused the stroke. Her baby, Trennon, was delivered by emergency c-section and survived. Her husband, Nick Marlowe, 26, is still struggling from the shock.

The willingness and ability to protect the health of mothers and babies at childbirth is a basic measure of the government and the society’s commitment towards ensuring the happiness of its citizens. Yet every year in the US, 700 to 900 women die due to pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 face near-death-like conditions — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world.

While in every other developed country, and in many not so developed ones, maternal mortality rates have gradually been dropping, in the US with its already high maternal mortality rate, the rate has gone even higher. What is even more saddening is the fact that according to an analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60 percent of such deaths were found to be preventable and caused due to reasons like doctor’s negligence, financial constraints, lack of proper education among others. The analysis also found racial disparities in such deaths which makes these trends even more distressing. It was found that African-American women were almost four times more likely than a white American woman to die from causes arising due to pregnancy-related complications.


Given the severity of the situation and its profound impact on the society, it is normal to assume that the American government would be doing all it can to study the problem and find ways to resolve it, more so because most of the developed world has been able to do it. But dear readers, you will be astonished and maybe even anguished to know that the government has not published any statistics regarding maternal mortality in more than a decade. While sophisticated tools exist for capturing automobile deaths, aviation safety and even the success of in vitro fertilization, our government has yet not prioritized accounting for the loss of mothers’ lives. This can be due to two reasons, first that the government considers the lives of these women to be too insignificant to warrant a study. The second reason can be that the real data would expose the condition to be so dismal that the government does not wish to disclose it. And to our misfortune, both these reasons are equally worrisome.

NPR and ProPublica teamed up for a six-month-long investigation on maternal mortality in the US. What the study found are horrifying. Have a look:

  • More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the US has the rate of women who die been rising.
  • There's a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
  • Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
  • Federal and state funding show only 6 percent of block grants for "maternal and child health" actually go to the health of mothers.
  • In the U.S, some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

Although we can pat our backs and try being pseudo-happy saying that infant mortality rate in our country has fallen to its lowest point in history but let us also not forget that it is still higher than in most developed nations, and higher by a significant margin. We must also understand that the agony a family faces when it loses a child is something that words cannot describe. According to statistics, American babies are less likely to survive their first year than babies in other developed countries.

“The American medical system focuses more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being. We worry a lot about vulnerable little babies,” says Barbara Levy, vice president for health policy/advocacy at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and a member of the Council on Patient Safety in Women’s Health Care. Meanwhile, “we don’t pay enough attention to those things that can be catastrophic for women.”

The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the US are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of the pregnancies in the US are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. The greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need.

But here comes the irony, this is America, the world’s richest nation. The only superpower in the world. A country capable of launching ICBMs and hitting targets anywhere in the world. A country that wages wars and spends billions on creating new weapons of death, and yet it is incapable of saving the lives of its own citizens which as research has shown could be saved. There can be only two explanations for this, it might either be the fallout of misplaced priorities or someone powerful is profiting from this chaos. It is for you to decide.

Author: Pradeep Banerjee