The US saw a 40 per cent rise in maternal death rates from 2020 to 2021, according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This sharp increase builds on a trend of steadily rising maternal deaths over the last several years in the US.
The report is based on data from the National Vital Statistics System, which tracks births and deaths across the US. Maternal mortality is defined by the World Health Organization as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy”, but excludes deaths not related to pregnancy or its associated complications.
According to research by the Commonwealth Fund, the US has the highest maternal death rate of any rich nation by a significant margin, with more than three times as many deaths as the runner-up, France.
In the US, the number of maternal deaths jumped from 861 in 2020 to 1205 in 2021. The CDC also reported a disproportionate increase in maternal mortality rates for Black women compared to white women, with around 70 deaths per 100,000 live births, up from 55 deaths in 2020. That’s more than twice as high as the rate for white women in 2021, who had around 27 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Experts credit the rise to the covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated inequities that already existed in health care. “In terms of maternal mortality, it continues to highlight those structural and systemic problems that we saw so clearly during the covid-19 pandemic,” said Chasity Jennings-Nuñez at Adventist Health White Memorial hospital in an interview with CNN. “Until we begin to address those issues, even without a pandemic, we’re going to continue to see numbers go in the wrong direction.”
The report also found a significant increase in older women dying from complications related to birth and pregnancy. There were around 20 deaths per 100,000 live births from women under 25, compared to 139 for those ages 40 and over. Maternal death rates in people 40 and older were up 28 per cent from 2020.