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September 1, 2014, 12:37 pm

U.S. maternity death rate surprisingly high

As the president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Eleanor Hinton Hoytt has brought pertinent health issues to the forefront and advocated against health disparities.

When Hoytt hosted a BlogTalkRadio show on “Why Is Pregnancy So Dangerous for Black Women?” she shed light on the nation’s maternal mortality crisis.

“Maternal health is one of this issues that remains in silence. We don’t talk about it. It goes unquestioned. What we have failed to do in this country is to talk about healthy bodies, healthy pregnancies and health throughout the lifespan,” said Hoytt.

“Particularly because we don’t have any accountability at any level for maternal health, the risks that lead to pregnancy complications and maternal mortality go unquestioned and unresolved.”

The report, Deadly Delivery, released by Amnesty International USA in 2010, assessed the dire status of pregnancy and childbirth care in the U.S. The reports notes more than two women die per day of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

“Each time a woman dies, 30 more women nearly die from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth. They suffer what’s called a near-miss and hundreds of other women face a complication,” said Nan Strauss, report co-author and director of Maternal Research and Policy, Amnesty International USA.

“So all of the improvements that would bring down the maternal mortality ratio would also reduce those near-misses, reduce those complications and improve the quality of care and the health of those four million women who give birth every year in the U.S. So those maternal deaths are really an indicator of a much larger problem.”

Dr. Franklin Geary, director of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, said many women lack access to the health care system or providers and do not receive prenatal care.

Geary’s division serves Atlanta-based Grady Memorial Hospital and often treats patients who are facing high-risk pregnancies.

“Many of our patients that present for care at the latter stages of their pregnancy have not had any care or they had other issues that prevented them from seeing a provider,” says Geary.

He said it’s important that women receive prenatal care because they may have medical issues that need to be assessed early on in their pregnancy. Having access to prenatal care can help prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes, Geary said.

“There may be patients that are hypertensive that are on certain medicines that are not safe to take during pregnancy. If they get access to the system and they get care, then their medications could be changed to something that is acceptable to take during pregnancy,” Geary pointed out.

“There may be women who have undiagnosed urinary tract infections and urinary tract infections can lead to pre-term labor.”

Strauss says the pregnancy mortality disparities facing African-American women have held steady for about six decades. Black women are four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications.

“These disparities in the maternity mortality rate persist at every income level and every income level. So you see the same disparities among low-income women that you see among higher income women. You can’t write it off as it’s all about income and you can’t say it’s entirely explained by complications or risk factors,” Strauss said.

“I think it suggests that as a system we need to be looking at differences in the kind of care that people are receiving, differences in the way that people are being treated,” Strauss said.

During the discussion, Shafia Monroe, founder and president, International Center for Traditional Childbearing addressed the role that doulas, who are birth companions, have in helping women have healthy outcomes.

The Washington, D.C.-based Black Women’s Health Imperative works to advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development.


Contact staff writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .