Published March 30, 2017
Thalidomide, which was aggressively marketed as a totally safe and effective treatment for morning sickness in early pregnancy, ultimately took...
— William Wilberforce
Part of a new study recently published as an article in the British medical journal, The Lancet, finds that the maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the United States has gone up by 64 percent since 1990 and is now higher than most “high-income” countries.
According to the “Maternal Mortality Collaborators” segment of this year’s Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), there were 1,063 maternal deaths in the U.S., which means that 26.4 women in 100,000 (1 in 3,787) giving birth to babies in the U.S. die within one year, compared to 16.9 in 1990 and 17.5 in 2000.1 2
The annual GBD, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation1 and coordinated by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)2 in Seattle, WA, is described as the “most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date.”3 Every year since 1990, the GBD has examined 249 health outcome measures affecting life expectancy and mortality in 195 countries—factors such as diseases and injuries—and evaluated trends in the health of populations.3
The study found that 49 countries had an MMR of less than 15, including “Saudi Arabia, all countries in central Europe, and all high-income locations with the exception of the [U.S.], Argentina, Brunei, Chile, and Uruguay.”1
In terms of maternal death rates, the U.S. finds itself in the company of several countries in North Africa and the Middle East, along with “Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam” that all have an MMR ranging between 15-30. 1
The study notes that the U.S. has a “high MMR for a high-SDI (Socio-demographic Index) country.1 Perhaps more alarming, though, is the fact that the U.S. is also one of the few countries in the world in which more women are dying within a year of childbirth than died in the past.1
The discrepancy between the U.S.’s poor MMR status and its overall economic and social position in the world is explained by Christopher Murray, MD, director of IHME.
Dr. Murray states that, “Development drives, but does not determine health.” He adds, “We see countries that have improved far faster than can be explained by income, education, or fertility. And we also continue to see countries—including the United States—that are far less healthy than they should be given their resources.”4
1 GBD 2015 Maternal Mortality Collaborators. Global, regional, and national levels of maternal mortality, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Global Burden of Disease Study 2015.
2 U.S. maternal mortality rate worse than Libya, Palestine—report. RT Oct. 10, 2016.
3 Global Burden of Disease. The Lancet Oct. 8, 2016.
4 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Increase in global life expectancy offset by war, obesity, and substance abuse. HealthData.org.