U.S. maternal mortality rate plummets in 2022 after six-decade high largely attributed to COVID
new York – Deaths of pregnant women in the United States plummeted in 2022, dropping significantly from a six-decade high during the pandemic, new data shows. More than 1,200 American women died in 2021 while pregnant or soon after giving birth, according to a final tally released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022, there were 733 maternal deaths, according to the agency’s preliminary data, although the final number is likely higher.
Officials say the 2022 maternal mortality rate is on track to approach pre-pandemic levels. But it’s not great: The rate before COVID-19 was the highest in decades.
“From worst to worst? I wouldn’t exactly call it an accomplishment,” said Omari Maynard, a New Yorker whose partner died after giving birth in 2019.
The CDC counts women who die during pregnancy, during childbirth, and up to 42 days after birth. Excessive bleeding, blockages of blood vessels and infections are the main causes.
COVID-19 can be especially dangerous for pregnant women, and experts believe that’s the main reason for the 2021 spike. Exhausted doctors may have added to the risk by ignoring pregnant women’s concerns, some advocates said.
In 2021, there were approximately 33 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The last time the government recorded such a high rate was in 1964.
What happened “isn’t that hard to explain,” said Eugene Declercq, a longtime researcher on maternal mortality at Boston University. “The outbreak was related to COVID.”
Previous government analyzes have concluded that a quarter of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021 were COVID-related – meaning that all of the increase in maternal deaths was due to coronavirus infections or the wider impact of the pandemic on Healthcare. Pregnant women infected with the coronavirus were nearly 8 times more likely to die than their uninfected peers, according to a recent study published by BMJ Global Health.
Pregnant women’s bodies are already strained, their hearts forced to pump harder. Other health problems can weaken their condition. And then on top of that, “COVID is going to make all of this worse,” said March of Dimes Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Cherot.
It didn’t help that vaccination rates among pregnant women were disappointing in 2021 — especially among black women. Part of that had to do with the limited availability of vaccines and the CDC not fully recommending the shots to pregnant women until August 2021.
“There was a lot of mistrust of the vaccine initially in black communities,” said Samantha Griffin, who owns a doula service that primarily serves families of color in the Washington, DC area.
But there’s more to it, they and others added.
The maternal mortality rate is higher in the United States than in any other developed country, especially among women of color. The maternal mortality rate for black women in 2021 was nearly three times that of white women. And the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic-American women that year increased 54% from 2020, also exceeding the mortality rate for white mothers.
Determining the cause of racial disparity poses “essentially one of the greatest public health challenges,” the head of a Harvard task force studying the issue told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last summer. .
“We see this as the tip of the iceberg of poor women’s health and poor black women’s health,” said Dr. Henning Tiemeier, director of Harvard’s Maternal Health Task Force, citing factors ” from poverty to discrimination to poor care for this group of women.”
More than a year into the pandemic, many doctors and nurses were feeling burnt out and spending less time in person with patients.
Back then, providers “had to make quick decisions and maybe not listen to their patients so much,” Griffin said. “Women were saying they thought something was wrong and they weren’t being heard.”
Maynard, who is 41 and lives in Brooklyn, said he and his partner experienced this in 2019.
Shamony Gibson, a healthy 30-year-old woman, was due to have their second child. The pregnancy was going well until her contractions stopped progressing and she had a caesarean section.
The operation was more complicated than expected but their son Khari was born in September. A few days later, Shamony began complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath, Maynard said. Doctors told her she just needed to relax and let her body rest from the pregnancy, he said.
More than a week after giving birth, her health deteriorated and she begged to go to the hospital. Then her heart stopped and her relatives called for help. The initial focus of paramedics and firefighters was to find out if Gibson was taking illegal drugs, Maynard said, adding that was not the case.
She was hospitalized and died the next day from a blood clot in her lungs. Her son was 13 days old.
“She wasn’t heard at all,” said Maynard, an entertainer who now speaks as a maternal health advocate.