Maternal mortality rates decline globally except US

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New York – A new study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology reveals a worldwide decline in maternal mortality rates (MMR) with an exception of United States.

Authors of the report note that the US is a glaring exception and particularly in Texas the MMR has more than doubled over the course of two years.

One of the primary motives behind the study was to bring out the MMR trends in the US as the government hasn’t officially published its data on this subject since 2007.

Pregnancy-related deaths are still rare in the United States, certainly in comparison with less-developed nations. But the estimated rate of maternal mortality in 48 states and Washington grew by about 27 per cent between 2000 and 2014, said the authors.

The two most populous states, California and Texas, had enough data to allow for more analysis. Research showed that California succeeded in decreasing numbers, the researchers said, but Texas death rates climbed like no other state in the nation.

From 2006 through 2010, numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the rate of maternal deaths in Texas wavered little. There were as few as 69 deaths in 2009 and as many as 82 in 2008. But from 2010 to 2012, those numbers shot up from 72 deaths to 148. In 2013, deaths fell slightly to 140, and there were 135 in 2014, the last year analyzed by the study’s researchers.

Advocates for reproductive rights — including the right to legal and safe abortions — were quick to seize upon the news with their analysis about the trend in Texas. The uptick is no coincidence, they say. In this same window of time, Texas politicians voted to defund Planned Parenthood and slashed family planning dollars, reducing access to more than abortions.

Other services provided by Planned Parenthood, which often caters to underserved communities, include breast and cervical cancer screenings, contraceptive counseling, STD testing and treatment, and multiple forms of preventive women’s care.

Pegging the spike of Texas maternal deaths in 2011-12 on politics and the closure of clinics isn’t fair, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“There is no evidence of that,” she said by email. “That reduction [in clinics] wouldn’t have taken effect till September 2011 and it would have taken months to be reflected in the type of data we are talking about here.”

She said that the concern about the uptick in deaths is one the department shares and that it’s “a complex problem that requires looking closely at a number of factors,” including obesity, chronic disease and tobacco use. For that reason, she said, a task force has been set up to examine what transpired and offer recommendations.

Marian MacDorman, the lead author of the recent study that highlighted the Texas numbers, said the goal in the research was simply to identify trends and not answer why Texas numbers jumped.

Even so, the maternal and child health research professor at University of Maryland gives weight to the idea that the closure of women’s health clinics in recent years played a role.