WASHINGTON (HPD) — COVID-19 fueled a dramatic increase in the number of women who died from complications of pregnancy or childbirth in the United States last year, a crisis that has disproportionately affected black and Hispanic women. , according to a government report released on Wednesday.
The report shows a discouraging trend across the country for pregnant women and their unborn babies.
The study notes that pregnancy-related deaths have soared nearly 80% since 2018, and that COVID-19 was a factor in 25% of the 1,178 deaths reported in 2021. The percentage of premature or underweight babies it also increased last year after being constant for years. In addition, there are more women who are pregnant or who have just given birth who report symptoms of depression.
“We were already in the midst of a crisis with maternal mortality in our country,” said Karen Tabb Dina, a maternal health researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus. “This really shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated that crisis at rates that we as a country cannot handle.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan body that produced the report, looked at pregnancy-related deaths after Congress, in its coronavirus relief initiative from 2020, mandated that a review of maternal health outcomes be conducted.
The maternal mortality rate in the United States is higher than in many other developed countries and had been rising in the years leading up to the pandemic, but COVID-19 has made conditions worse for pregnant women in the country.
Women who contract the virus during pregnancy face elevated health risks. Staff shortages and restrictions related to COVID-19 created more obstacles for pregnant women to receive face-to-face medical care. In addition, the stress of the pandemic has intensified depression, a common health problem during pregnancy.
The maternal mortality rate is particularly marked among black women, who have long faced worse childbearing outcomes than white women.
Pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births rose from 44 in 2019 to 68.9 among black women last year. White women had mortality rates of 17.9 in 2019 and 26.1 in 2021.
Death rates among Hispanics had been on the decline but rose again during the pandemic from 12.6 per 100,000 in 2019 to 27.5 last year.