CDC data confirm racial disparities in U.S. maternal mortality

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A data analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that three out of every five pregnancy-related deaths in the United States could be prevented.

The analysis of 2011-2015 national data on pregnancy mortality and of 2013-2017 detailed data from 13 state maternal mortality review committees was collected by the CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System.

“Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women were about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women,” according to the CDC, which issued a report on Tuesday with the findings. “However, the new analysis also found that most deaths were preventable, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

Of the 700 annual U.S. pregnancy-related deaths, almost 31 percent occurred during pregnancy, 36 percent during delivery or the week after, and 33 percent one week to one year after delivery—with heart disease and stroke causing 34 percent of fatalities.

“Our new analysis underscores the need for access to quality services, risk awareness and early diagnosis, but it also highlights opportunities for preventing future pregnancy-related deaths,” says Wanda Barfield, MD, director of the Division of Reproductive Health in the CDC National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “By identifying and promptly responding to warning signs not just during pregnancy but even up to a year after delivery, we can save lives.”

In December, President Trump signed legislation into law to help prevent maternal mortality by funding surveillance, data collection and research on how to solve the growing problem. The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act funds state committees to investigate maternal deaths and to share the information nationwide to identify potential solutions.

Also See: Trump signs into law maternal mortality prevention legislation

The authorization of $58 million for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023 will support 33 existing states with maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) and assist the remaining 17 states develop them, as well as to standardize data collection across the country.

MMRCs assess pregnancy-related or pregnancy-associated deaths, and based on those findings develop recommendations for how to prevent future loss of life. The committees devise their recommendations by linking death certificate and birth certificate or fetal death records, as well as data on maternal deaths such as medical and social records.

The CDC provides technical assistance and resources to MMRCs to review maternal deaths and make prevention recommendations. Starting this fall, the agency will provide support to as many as 25 MMRCs across the country as part of a funding opportunity to identify and characterize maternal deaths.

“Quality assurance processes, in partnership with CDC, will be used for improving data quality, completeness and timeliness,” according to the agency. “Recipients and CDC will analyze data and share findings with stakeholders to inform policy and prevention strategies to reduce maternal deaths.”

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