Doubling of Maternal Deaths in US ‘Scandalous,’ Rights Group Says

Stephanie Smith, CNN, March 12, 2010

Deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled in the past 20 years, a development that a human rights group called “scandalous and disgraceful” Friday.

In addition, the rights group said, about 1.7 million women a year, one-third of pregnant women in the United States, suffer from pregnancy-related complications.

Most of the deaths and complications occur among minorities and women living in poverty, it noted.

Amnesty International issued a report Friday that calls on President Obama to take action.

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The report, “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA,” notes that the lifetime risk of maternal deaths is greater in the United States than in 40 other countries, including virtually all industrialized nations.

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Minorities, women living in poverty, Native Americans, immigrants and those who speak little or no English are particularly affected, Amnesty International said.

“The thing that really struck us was that these problems hit women of color, low-income, particularly hard,” said Nan Strauss, researcher and co-author of the Amnesty report. “But every woman who is going through pregnancy in this country is at risk.”

Figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, show that black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.

White women have a mortality rate of 9.5 per 100,000 pregnancies, the CDC said. For African-American women, that rate is 32.7 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.

“This has been known for a while and no one has a good handle on it,” said Dr. Elliot Main, chairman and chief of obstetrics at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. “This is a national disgrace and a call to action. Both numbers are a call to action–maternal mortality and racial disparity.”

The CDC analysis shows that deaths during pregnancy and childbirth have doubled for all U.S. women in the past 20 years.

In 1987, there were 6.6 deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies. The number of deaths had climbed to 13.3 per 100,000 in 2006, the last year for which figures were available.

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