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Community-level actions could mitigate maternal mortality


Maternal mortality in the United States has been rising for several decades, but actions taken at the community level, as well as larger public health initiatives, have the potential to slow this trend, according to experts at a webinar sponsored by the National Institute for Health Care Management.

Maternal mortality in the United States increased by 14% from 2018 to 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

However, more than 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, according to 2017-2019 data from the Maternal Mortality Review Committees published online by the CDC. MMRCs include representatives of diverse clinical and nonclinical backgrounds who review the circumstances of pregnancy-related deaths.

In a webinar presented on Sept. 20, the NIHCM enlisted a panel of experts to discuss maternal mortality, the effect of changes to reproductive rights, and potential strategies to improve maternal health outcomes.

Maternal mortality is defined as “death while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of pregnancy, from any cause related to pregnancy or its management,” according to the CDC.

Importantly, mortality rates in the United States are approximately three times higher in Black women compared with White women, said Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, PhD, MPH, of the Tufts University Center for Black Maternal Health & Reproductive Justice. Dr. Amutah-Onukagha addressed some of the potential issues that appear to drive the disparity in care.

The lack of diversity in the health care workforce has a significant effect on patient outcomes, Dr. Amutah-Onukagha said. Overall, Black newborns are more than twice as likely as White newborns to die during their first year of life, but this number is cut in half when Black infants are cared for by Black physicians, she emphasized.

Other factors that may affect disparities in maternal health care include limited access to prenatal care, discriminatory hospital protocols, and mistreatment by health care professionals, said Dr. Amutah-Onukagha. She cited data showing that maternal mortality rates were higher in rural compared with urban areas. “According to the American Hospital Association, half of rural hospitals have no obstetric care, leaving mothers in maternity care deserts; this exacerbates existing disparities,” she said.

In the webinar, Sindhu Srinivas, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, explained how patient, community, and system factors play a role in the disparities in maternal care.

Overall, Black women have to travel further to receive care, which has implications for high-risk pregnancies, and patients on Medicaid have to wait longer for care, and are less likely to be referred, she added. Black women also have higher rates of preexisting conditions compared with other populations that put them in the high-risk category, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or being HIV positive, she said.

Other factors contributing to persistent disparities in maternal care include sociodemographics, patient beliefs and knowledge, and psychological issues including stress, said Dr. Srinivas. Community factors, such as social networks, safety, and poverty, also play a role, as do clinician factors of implicit bias and communication skills, she said.


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