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CDC: Maternal Mortality, Black Maternal Health Disparities Still High

New CDC data showed maternal mortality continued to climb in 2020, with Black maternal health disparities still glaring.

The United States still has the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world, a factor largely driven by steep Black maternal health disparities, according to the most recent figures out of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The data, prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, showed the overall maternal mortality rate in 2020, the most recent year for which there is data, was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. That is up from 2019 when the maternal mortality rate was 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births.

These numbers come as the nation turns its attention to racial health disparities. Following the landmark 2019 report from the CDC outlining the glaring health disparities leading to a higher prevalence of maternal mortality among Black women, even after adjusting for social factors, maternal health has come front and center.

But the US isn’t yet seeing the impacts of that conversation, these most current data points show. In 2020, there were a total of 861 maternal deaths, defined by the World Heath Organization as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”

In contrast, 2019 saw 794 maternal deaths, the CDC analysis found.

And just as overall maternal mortality got worse in 2020, maternal health disparities likewise deepened. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 births, which is 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic White women (19.1 deaths per 100,000 births).

CDC said the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was also significantly higher than it was for Hispanic women (18.2 deaths per 100,000 births).

bar graph show maternal mortality rates worsened between 2018 and 2020 and that black maternal health disparities grew between 2018 and 2020
Maternal mortality rates worsened between 2018 and 2020, as did Black maternal health disparities.

These findings come after a couple of years of intense focus on health equity within the healthcare industry, as well as policy fights to address Black maternal health disparities.

Healthcare organizations like Mass General Brigham have built out policies and programs to address Black maternal health outcomes. The Mass General Brigham program invests in social programming to improve health literacy in communities of color and diversify its provider workforce.

At CVS Health Aetna, patient education campaigns have centered on preeclampsia, a medical condition that is more likely to affect Black pregnant people and which contributes to maternal mortality rates. The education campaign aims to illuminate the risk factors and symptoms of preeclampsia and outline prevention strategies.

On the policy front, the Black Maternal Health Caucus has put forward a number of bills advocating for health equity work tailored to maternal health. Other policy efforts have emphasized the role of Medicaid coverage, with several states stating they would extend the coverage period for childbearing people.

These efforts are in their nascency and certainly did not go into effect in time to have their impacts seen in this latest dataset. Future analyses of maternal mortality and Black maternal health disparities may reflect these changes.

The CDC analysis also highlighted poorer maternal health outcomes by age, with maternal mortality becoming more likely for older birthing people. The 2020 maternal mortality rate for women over 40 was 107.9 deaths per 100,000 births, compared to 13.8 deaths per 100,000 for birthing people under age 25.

This finding is somewhat natural, as pregnant people increase in risk as they age. However, the data did show worsening maternal mortality rates for the over-40 group. In 2019, the CDC observed a dip in maternal mortality among this population, but in 2020 the mortality rate reached an all-time high (75.5 versus 107.9 deaths per 100,000 births, respectively).

Efforts to create age-related health equity will need to center on reducing the maternal mortality rate for older pregnant people, the data indicated.

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