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.

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New report on maternal mortality in Sierra Leone

AI secretary general Irene Khan visits a maternity ward at a hospital in Sierra Leone.

AI secretary general Irene Khan visits a maternity ward at a hospital in Sierra Leone.

Adama Turay was supposed to be cuddling her newborn. Instead, she was fighting for life after the birth of her first child.

She was bleeding and sick after delivery. Her family knew something was wrong, but they didn’t have money for a doctor.

They somehow managed to raise enough for a taxi to take her to the hospital, but during the 40-minute ride to the nearest medical facility, Adama died.

“The fear of what it would cost prevented her from seeking the medical attention that she really needed,” said Sarah Kabbia, Adama’s sister.

Amnesty International’s new report, Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Health in Sierra Leone shows us a bleak, terrifying situation for pregnant women and their families:

  • A higher proportion of women in Sierra Leone die in childbirth and pregnancy than almost anywhere else in the world.
  • Women and their families are forced to negotiate and pay for equipment and medications, and provide their own food and water, while they’re in a health facility, at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.
  • Most people live far away from a medical facility and cannot afford transportation costs to a hospital or doctor.

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