A new study showed that maternal mortality rates in Texas doubled between 2011 and 2015. African-American women are the most affected group, accounting for 28.8% of deaths linked to pregnancy complications.

The study released by Obstetrics & Gynecology found that between 2011 and 2015, 537 women had a pregnancy-related death in Texas, which is a major upheaval compared to the 296 deaths of women who died due to childbirth between 2007 and 2010. As well, studies showed that cardiac events topped the list of direct causes of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas. The list also includes legal and illegal drug overdoses, hypertension, infection, homicide, and suicide.

Pregnant woman
“There were several things that we identified that were more common among women who died: obesity, chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, and late entry into prenatal care” added Lisa Hollier, a Houston obstetrician, and maternal-fetal specialist. Image credit: www.parents.com

The United States is falling far short of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal

Several factors influence the rise of maternal deaths in Texas; however, the phenomenon is not just a Texas issue, it is happening all over the U.S territory.  The maternity mortality rates have increased 27 percent from 2000 to 2014, making the U.S the sole developed country where the childbirth-related deaths have increased in the last decades.

For the study, researchers accumulated data from 58 states, demonstrating thus that the maternal mortality rate increased from 18.8 in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014. This means that in 2000 around 19 women died because of childbirth complication along, but in 2014 almost 24 women died due to the same reasons per every 100.000 births.

Pregnant woman
This situation is particularly worrisome since the U.S is not close to meet the goal established by the United Nations of reducing 75% of maternal mortality rate. A goal that was supposed to be met between 2000 and 2015. Image credit: www.backandneck.ca

According to World Health Organization (WHO), the average maternal mortality rate in developed countries is 12 deaths per 100.000 births, which is half the number recorded by the studies in the U.S. The reasons are still unclear since that kind of situation usually occurs during war times, natural disasters or a severe economic problem.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case of the United States. It certainly is an indicator that the health care services might be unequal or somehow inaccessible to some population. Especially in rural areas the access to the services appears to be a problem.  This could be a wake-up call to the governments across the U.S territory to increase efforts to prevent maternal deaths for the 4 million women giving birth each year.

Maternal Mortality 2015
Maternal mortality ratio (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in women aged 15 to 49), by region, 1990, 2010 and 2015. Image credit: World Health Organization, UNICEF.

“There is sadly no magic bullet that explains what is behind the high levels of maternal mortality in the United States,” said Rachel Ward, managing director of research at Amnesty International U.S.  “It is a combination of factors that speak to the systematic problems of failing to provide affordable, accessible, quality health services to all women in the United States,” he added.

African American women are the most affected in Texas

If the U.S maternal death rates are unsettling, Texas’ rates are far worse. Between 2010 and 2012, the deaths related to childbirth complications increased from 72 to 148.

After the studies were released, the state’s maternal mortality prevention task force confirmed that black women were clearly the most affected group,  given that African-American women in Texas accounted for 28 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths.

Pregnant woman
Specialists affirmed that hundreds of deaths and complications could be prevented during or soon after childbirth if only women in Texas had better access to maternal care services as well as mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment. Image credit: www.babynamesgarden.com.

 “African-American women accounted for only 11 percent of births in the 2011-2012 data that we looked at, but they accounted for 28 percent of maternal mortality,” said Hollier.

Another issue identified in Texas is that it is one of the states where there are more uninsured people in the U.S. Authorities in Texas have refused to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured residents.

Though poverty might be a reason that prevents women from receiving an appropriate medical prenatal and childbirth assistance; Hollier assured that there are some prenatal care services available for uninsured women going through pregnancy in the southern state.

The problem comes next, given that when a baby is born, there is not a real commitment from Texas government to protect a mother who doesn’t possess enough resources.

Furthermore, doctors in Texas say that the state’s network of clinics that offer reproductive health services and provide low-cost contraception is contracting. In 2011, the Texas legislature reduced about two-thirds from the state’s family planning budget.

The Republican-controlled statehouse excluded the Planned Parenthood plan, which provided cancer screenings, contraception and subsidized these services for poor women. Cuts in the Texa’s budget might be linked to the rise of the maternal death rates the state.

Source: The Guardian