Aug 6, 2018
A woman giving birth in the United States is three times more likely to die than a woman in Britain or Canada. In fact, the maternal death rate in the U.S. is the highest of any developed country, and higher than in many poor countries. And it has been increasing.
Every year in this richest country in the world, 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 60 percent of these deaths are preventable. And for every woman who dies, 70 nearly die. That adds up to over 50,000 women a year who can lose their uterus, get long-term kidney problems, have heart attacks, or have brain damage from all the blood they’ve lost.
Part of the problem is the disjointed and disorganized medical system in the U.S. This means that standardized best practices are followed in some places, but not in others. For instance, Britain standardized its approach to treating pre-eclampsia, a type of high blood pressure that occurs only during pregnancy or right after childbirth. As a result, pre-eclampsia deaths declined so much that only two women died of this between 2012 and 2014. Meanwhile, in the U.S., pre-eclampsia kills 50 to 70 women a year.
Another part of the problem is that over the last decade and half, there has been a big focus on improving the health of babies and fetuses, but not mothers. Women are routinely discharged from birth with information on how to breast-feed and what to do if their newborn is sick, but not how to take care of their own health.
And of course, poverty, the lack of affordable health care before, during, and after pregnancy, and the pressure on many women to return to work right away don’t help.
There is an easy answer to this crisis of women’s health: organize the medical system, on the scale of the country, to make sure each person gets the care they need. Standardize the best practices and make them available to everyone. Make sure all women have access to enough time off during and after pregnancy to take care of themselves and their children.
But in this system, in a thousand ways, the profits of bosses, hospitals, medical equipment and drug makers, and insurance companies come before the lives of women. The consequences are deadly.