Within the United States, there are vast inequities in mortality for new mothers. Despite the fact that maternal mortality is a rare event, this tragedy is visited unequally in certain groups, particularly women of color. For example, black women in New York City are at 10 times the risk of dying during pregnancy (or in the year following) when compared to their white counterparts; in 2000 the risk was 5.5 times as great.
But even looking at the US as a whole, rather than the variation within the US, and comparing us to other nations, the picture is stark. The US is one of only a handful of nations that has experienced an increase in maternal mortality rate over the last several years. The CDC data paint a scary trend.
Even if we cherry pick our best numbers, for example comparing the maternal mortality ratio only for white american women to the rate of the entire population in other countries, the US still doesn’t fare well. The CDC says the US ratio for white women is 11.8 (compared to 41.1 for blacks and a total population average of ~16). By using only the data for white women, we’ve improved our number by 25% or so, but that really doesn’t change the comparison very much. Countries like Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Italy all have an MMR in the range of 3-4. Compared to the 11.8 of white women in the US.
Why should mothers in the US run several times the risk of dying in childbirth? Do Sweden and Japan have some manner of patented technology for preventing maternal deaths — a technology to which we cannot acquire a license? If it isn’t a question of technology, then what is it a question of?
Perhaps considering the inequalities within our country can help us to better understand the inequalities we see between our country and other advanced nations: “Black women did not have significantly greater prevalence rates than White women. However, Black women with these conditions were 2 to 3 times more likely to die from them than were White women. ”