The data which was released by the National Center for Health Statistics on Thursday show that the national maternal mortality rate deaths caused by pregnancy were an estimated 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018 when 658 women died.
The 2018 maternal mortality data was gathered using new coding procedures that are part of an effort to make estimates on maternal mortality more accurate.
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It is the first time the United States has standardized maternal mortality data from all 50 states and experts have said it is a first step toward identifying ways to reduce pregnancy-related deaths across the country.
About 700 women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth every year, putting the U.S. in the last place among all developed nations in terms of maternal mortality, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the umbrella agency for the National Center for Health Statistics.
“It is a critical statistic to get right. It made it impossible to make any sense of trend at the national level,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.
A 2016 study by the Brookings Institution, also showed that Black mothers with advanced professional degrees, such as a master’s degree or higher, have a greater chance of infant mortality compared to white women whose highest education level is the eighth grade.
While giving an address at the congressional hearing this week, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative said: “The legacy of a hierarchy of human value based on the color of our skin continues to cause differences in health outcomes, including maternal mortality.”
“Racism is the risk factor, not black skin, not race. Race is a social and political construct,” she said.
Maternal mortality has historically been used as a key indicator of the health of a population. It is one of a limited number of health indicators currently included in the Sustainable Development Goals that address countries’ success in improving human well-being without harming the environment.