June 29, 2022 – Research shows that maternal mortality rates in the U.S. increased 33% after the beginning of the pandemic.
The rates were highest among Black and Hispanic women, often linked to COVID-19 or conditions made worse by COVID-19, such as heart disease or diabetes, according to a new stud y published in JAMA Network Open.
“The increase was really driven by deaths after the start of the pandemic, which are higher than what we see for overall excess mortality in 2020,” Marie Thoma, PhD, an assistant professor of family science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said in a statement.
The research team analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics to understand how the pandemic affected maternal deaths. They compared maternal mortality data from 2018 through March 2020 to April through December 2020. They also recorded the number of deaths associated with and without a COVID-19 diagnosis and compared it to pre-pandemic numbers.
The researchers found that overall maternal mortality increased by 33% after the start of the pandemic, and late maternal deaths increased 41%. The increases could be due to the coronavirus directly, including respiratory infections, they wrote, or could be from things related to a strained health care system, like delayed prenatal care or undetected pregnancy complications.
Black women had 16.8 more deaths per 100,000 births, which was a 40% increase among already high rates before the pandemic. Hispanic women had nine more deaths per 100,000 births, marking a 74% increase among formerly lower rates. White women had 2.9 more deaths per 100,000 births, or a 17% increase.
“For the first time in more than a decade, the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic women during the pandemic was higher than that for non-Hispanic white women, a shift that may be related to COVID and deserves greater attention moving forward,” Eugene Declercq, PhD, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, said in the statement.
COVID-19 was listed as a secondary cause of death in nearly 15% of maternal deaths in the last nine months of 2020, the study authors found. The coronavirus was listed as a contributing factor for 32% of Hispanic women, nearly 13% of Black women, and 7% of white women giving birth.
Social determinants of health – such as access to health care, systemic discrimination, wealth gaps, and housing – have played a role in health inequities and higher numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among racial and ethnic minorities, according to the CDC.
“This issue is not new, and the pandemic just reiterates the problems we already face in this country,” Jacques Moritz, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist and medical director of Tia, a health care model for the health care needs of women and girls, told ABC News. Moritz wasn’t involved with the study.
“We know that access to proper prenatal care continues to affect Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women,” he said. “Changes need to be made, otherwise the next pandemic we get, the numbers will be similar.”