With all of the issues and political struggles surrounding women’s health, it’s easy to forget that giving birth is actually incredibly dangerous for so many women around the world. It sort of gets lost in the conversation when it comes to giving women access to birth control and abortion that being pregnant is a huge health risk, even in the U.S., where the number of maternal deaths is one of the highest in the whole world.
According to a 2016 report by UNICEF, maternal mortality rates across the globe have dropped by half since 1990, from 385 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 216 per 100,000 live births. However, the rates vary from region to region, though and UNICEF remains totally unenthused. They wrote in their report:
In the U.S., there were 28 deaths per 100,000 in 2013, which was triple the rate during the same period in Canada, according to the New York Times. Only 24 countries in all had at least one maternal death in that period, but America’s increase in maternal deaths from 23 per 100,000 was more than other, poorer countries that had declined along with the rest of the world, such as Iran, Vietnam, Russia, and Romania.
So why, in 2017, is giving birth still so dangerous? There are a few big reasons.
1A general disinterest in the lives of mothers.
Stephen Kennedy, head of the Nuffield department of obstetrics & gynecology at the University of Oxford, told The Guardian last year when the new UNICEF maternal mortality rates were released:
Seriously, right? Everything from ensuring that women get healthcare when they’re pregnant, or even before they do, is fundamental to ensuring that they don’t die from complications. Yet, we know that that just doesn’t happen. Even just in America, the disparity between the women who have access to affordable healthcare and a doctor’s attention during their pregnancies and those who don’t is massive.
In addition to that, we spend so much attention and money on caring for the infant during a pregnancy and birth than we do the mother, at least in the U.S. Check this out: In the U.S., states spent about 6 percent of federal and state health grants on programs for mothers, compared to 78 percent for infants and special-needs children, according to NPR.
Worldwide, it’s not much better. Wendy Graham from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was a co-coordinator on a 2016 Lancet report on international maternal mortality report, told The Guardian that there are 53 million globally that don’t even have proper, skilled care at the time of delivery.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable in the U.S. It’s just a matter of changing the priorities of legislators and governments about how to allocate money, for everything from training medical professionals to prenatal care.
2There’s an overall lack of resources.
A lot of maternal death comes down to certain places just not having the right resources, whether it’s in Sudan or rural Texas. In some countries, doctors are performing c-sections in places with contaminated water or delivering babies without electricity. According to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization, 38 percent of healthcare facilities in 54 low-income countries are “without a decent water source.” Worse, in countries without proper facilities (like actual hospitals), women give birth at home, where the conditions are likely to be even less sanitary, which means getting a fatal infection or virus is all the more likely.
In Tanzania, for example, 8,000 women die each year during or just after giving birth. Health officials believe that 10 percent of those deaths is because of sepsis, which could be totally prevented with more funding in those areas to build up-to-date facilities.
According to the New York Times, about 40 percent of Puerto Rico is still lacking running water and about 85 percent of the island is still without power. Many hospitals are still in triage mode, which means that pregnant women, or women giving birth, don’t have proper care right now.
3In some cases, it depends on race.
In the U.S. at least, race plays a huge issue when it comes to maternal mortality. According to the CDC, black women are three and a half times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, which translates to 12 deaths per 100,000 lives birth for white women and 40 per 100,000 for black women.
Funnily, the one state that has closed its racial gap when it comes to maternal deaths is North Carolina and it’s two fold, according to people on the scene. For one, they’ve instituted a pregnancy program for low income mothers in general, funded in part by Medicaid. Which means women have access to affordable, consistent care throughout their pregnancies.
In addition to that, an initiative called the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of North Carolina, which launched in 2009, has worked intensively on maternity and pregnancy wards in 65 hospitals, ensuring that they have top of the line facilities and that nurses and doctors are trained to spot problems early on.
Martin McCaffrey, a professor of pediatrics at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine who directs the program told Vox, “Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia are severe problems in the African American maternal population. We have increased treatment of mothers with critical hypertension in less than an hour from 50 percent to 80 percent.” So its taking care of mothers all the time and preventing death during and after childbirth.
Giving birth is still dangerous because of problems that we already have the solution to — providing affordable and accessible healthcare to women all over the world and prioritizing both the mother and infant. It’s a problem that could be easily fixed if the people who control access to resources thought it was important enough.