Clinical Review

Targeting US maternal mortality: ACOG’s recent strides and future action

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How the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018, newly introduced ACOG-supported bills, and ACOG partnerships have and intend to make a difference in US rates of maternal mortality


 

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Real progress was achieved in 2018 in the effort to reduce the US maternal mortality rate, the highest of any developed nation and where women of color are 3 to 4 times more likely than others to die of childbirth-related causes. Importantly, the United States is the only nation other than Afghanistan and Sudan where the rate is rising.1

In May 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Vital Signs document focused on preventable maternal deaths.2 It affirmed that about 60% of the 700 pregnancy-related deaths that occur annually in the United States are preventable, and it provided important information on when and why these deaths occur.

Among the CDC findings, about:

  • one-third of deaths (31%) occurred during pregnancy (before delivery)
  • one-third (36%) occurred at delivery or in the week after
  • one-third (33%) occurred 1 week to 1 year postpartum.

In addition, the CDC highlighted that:

  • Heart disease and stroke caused more than 1 in 3 deaths (34%). Infections and severe bleeding were other leading causes of death.
  • Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women were about 3 times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), under the leadership of President Lisa Hollier, MD, MPH (2018–2019), fully embraced the challenge and responsibility of meaningfully improving health care for every mom. In this article, I review some of the critical steps taken in 2018 and preview ACOG’s continued commitment for 2019 and beyond.

Efforts succeed: Bills are now laws of the land

ACOG and our partner organizations, including the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the March of Dimes, have long recognized the value of state-based maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) in slowing and reversing the rate of maternal mortality. An MMRC brings together local experts to examine the causes of maternal deaths—not to find fault, but to find ways to prevent future deaths. With the right framework and support, MMRCs already are providing us with data and driving policy recommendations.

Supporting MMRCs in all states. With this in mind, ACOG helped pass and push to enactment HR 1318, the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2018 (Public Law No. 115-344), a bipartisan bill designed to help develop and provide support for MMRCs in every state. The bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and in the US Senate by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). ACOG Fellow and US Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX), also was instrumental in the bill’s success. The CDC is actively working toward implementation of this law, and grantees are expected to be announced by the end of September.

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