US Maternal Healthcare is truly shocking

Julia Belluz writes in Vox about the state of maternal healthcare in the US. The article entitled “California decided it was tired of women bleeding to death in childbirth” contains the following graph that sums things up …

Let me emphasise what this is telling you.

  • Between the years 1990 and 2016, the numbers of women dying due to pregnancy related issues in South Korea, Germany, Japan, UK, Australia, and Sweden has fallen.
  • As a stark contrast, the US numbers have greatly risen.

Or as the article puts it …

women who give birth in the US have a greater risk of dying relative to other rich countries — and the problem has been growing worse at a time when America’s peers have continued to make pregnancy safer.

In California things are different

This is the real good news story. In California the trend is in line with the rest of the world and so the mortality rate is one third of the US average.

In the US, childbirth has been growing more dangerous recently. Maternal mortality — defined as the death of a mother from pregnancy-related complications while she’s carrying or within 42 days after birth — in the US soared by 27 percent, from 19 per 100,000 to 24 per 100,000, between 2000 and 2014.

That’s more than three times the rate of the United Kingdom, and about eight times the rates of Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, according to the OECD.

It’s a stunning example of how poorly the American health care system stacks up against its developed peers. More women in labor or brand new mothers die here than in any other high-income country. And the CDC Foundation estimates that 60 percent of these deaths are preventable.

But as the mortality rate has been edging up nationally, California has made remarkable progress in the opposite direction: Fewer and fewer women are dying in childbirth in the state.

So how did California manage to buck the trend? I was curious, particularly as American women’s health is under assault, with the GOP push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The fact that things in California are so different motivated her to go and find out exactly why, what is it that they do in California that gets it right when everybody else gets it needlessly wrong?

I’m not going to tell you what the answer actually is. If you care and want to find out, then you do need to go read Julia’s article. It is a harrowing read, but also one that offers hope for a far better way forward even within the context of the very flawed US healthcare nightmare.

I will however offer a few additional sound bytes as a teaser.

…Mothers die too often because women’s health isn’t valued in the US…

…One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals focused on driving down the maternal mortality rate. This led to efforts in almost every country to save moms’ lives — and they were largely successful: The global maternal mortality rate dropped by 44 percent worldwide between 1990 and 2015, and by 48 percent in developed countries. The US was one of only 13 countries, including North Korea and Zimbabwe, that saw its maternal death rate increase since 1990….

…One place that stands out is California….

… Hospitals and doctors in California are now competing with one another to save moms’ lives…

… California could inspire the rest of the country, but the GOP health reform bill could make America’s maternal health worse…


… California has demonstrated that even in our messy and imperfect health care system, progress is possible. They’ve shown the rest of the country what happens when people care…

I’m highlighting her article because it is not simply an outstanding piece of journalism, it is also a vitally important one.

One Last Statistic – How does California compare to the rest of the US?

This one chart tells you that they are indeed doing something very different …


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