Issue 98 • Week of December 3, 2023
American mothers are tragically 50% more likely to die in childbirth today than their mothers.
In stark contrast to health trends elsewhere, US maternal mortality has doubled within the last two decades. We have fallen to the worst among industrialized nations and 61st out of 185 countries worldwide. The rate for new or expectant African American mothers is even worse. If compared in the same list, we would drop to 88th.
Politicians and administrators have long held contempt for maternal care. Only 6% of government block grants intended for "maternal and child health" actually go to help the health of mothers, so that more than half of pregnancy-related maternal deaths occur after giving birth.
Our children's health outcomes are hardly any better. The US has also dropped to the bottom of all high income countries when it comes to infant mortality and ranks 49th globally. Should children survive, America then ranks lowest among peers for childhood support.
All these tragic statistics should alarm everyone, particularly considering that the US is the wealthiest nation in history and over 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. We, as a society, have chosen this reality either through policy or our collective inaction.
These travesties occur at the same time as rural populations are beginning to decline. That will lead to devastating long-term economic consequences unless immigration policies are updated to offset drops because no amount of incentives have encouraged birth rates to recover. Just knowing about potential complications are compounding decisions to have fewer children or none at all.
Americans spend 50% more than any other country on healthcare, but only a third of our expenses go toward patient care which results in paying more for inferior outcomes. The increasingly obvious solution for lower maternal and infant mortality at a better price is to adopt universal healthcare, the standard across 73 nations, and paid parental leave that is provided in 185 countries.
These movements would undoubtedly provide the largest benefits. However, they are not enough to get us up to par with the rest of the industrialized world. There are also other steps we should take as we secure this support system that more than half of the world declares a human right.