Maternal mortality in the US

Submitted by Dan Johnson, AIUSA Legislative Coordinator for Oregon
(adapted from Amnesty International USA Issue Brief, No. 3, February 2010)

Over half a million women die each year from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth. The vast majority of maternal deaths occur in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Among industrialized nations, however, the United States has the highest lifetime risk of maternal death, second only to Estonia. While the United States spends more than any other country on health care, it ranks 41st in lifetime risk of maternal death out of 171 other countries included in a 2005 World Health Organization study. Since maternal mortality is considered one of the best indicators of the overall public health of a nation, this is of major concern.

Maternal mortality is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Two to three women die of pregnancy-related complications every day in the United States but some experts believe that a lack of data may be masking the scope of the problem. Estimates vary, but accurate numbers may be twice as high. While the United States does poorly overall, African American women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy or childbirth-related complications than white women. Lack of information and access to public services, and a healthcare system that fails to guarantee universal access to health services mean that women of color, immigrant women, and the uninsured are at particularly high-risk.

More than half of maternal deaths in the United States could have been prevented if women had better access to health care. Preventable maternal mortality violates a variety of human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health; the right to life; and the right to freedom from discrimination. The government is ultimately responsible for ensuring that human rights commitments are being met.

Maternal mortality is a global issue, and the United States should be a leader in combating these preventable deaths. Since 2000, the world’s anti-poverty agenda has been dictated by the Millennium Development Goals. Of all the goals, MDG 5 – cutting the maternal mortality ratio by 75% – has seen by far the least progress, less than 1% per year by the most optimistic estimates. Of all the central development issues, maternal mortality needs the most urgent action.

This month, Amnesty International will be releasing an in-depth report on the global and domestic problem of maternal mortality. In this study, it was discovered that between 2 and 3 women die every day in the United States due to complications related to child birth. Additionally, birth in the United States is more dangerous than any other industrialized nation except for Estonia. The magnitude of the problem is quite shocking, and we need people to back up the release of this report with constituent support in local offices. If this is an issue that concerns you, and if you’d like to work to improve the rights of women to safe, non-discriminatory, and accessible maternal care, please sign up to lead or join a delegation in Oregon. Click here for more information.

Update – April 5, 2010

Click here to download the summary and/or full report on Maternal Health in the US.

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