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Why are more women dying from childbirth in the U.S. than in Saudi Arabia or the UK?

April 26, 2015 at 5:27 PM EST
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world with an increasing number of women who die in childbirth. In fact, a woman giving birth in the U.S. is twice as likely to die than in Saudi Arabia and three times as likely than in the United Kingdom. Danielle Paquette, a reporter for The Washington Post, joins Alison Stewart to discuss the startling health crisis.
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ALISON STEWART: The number of women in the U.S. who die in childbirth is nearing the highest rate in a quarter-century. An estimated 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in 2013, compared with 7.2 in 1987.

The Post reports that this translates to, quote, “a woman giving birth here is twice as likely to die than in Saudi Arabia and three times as likely than in the United Kingdom.”

“Washington Post” reporter Danielle Paquette, who wrote the story, joins us.

Danielle, in your piece, there is a startling line, and I am just going read it. It says, “the United States is the only advanced economy in the world with a rising maternal mortality rate.”

What is going on in this country as opposed to other advanced economies that is causing this problem?

DANIELLE PAQUETTE, REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, Alison, this problem confounds a lot in the medical community. There is not one thing driving the problem.

Experts I have spoken to tell me that certain parts of the country there is — there are gaps in health insurance coverage, especially in the South. For example, Mississippi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, that the state did not expand Medicaid.

There’s something like 100,000 people who don’t have access to any healthcare. And many of them are women. We have in Mississippi 160 doctors for every 100,000 residents. That drives part of this problem.

ALISON STEWART: One of the interesting things in your piece is that the problems are described as preventable. So what’s stopping people from preventing them?

DANIELLE PAQUETTE: Well, some doctors say it is something as simple as getting a routine checkup. So many women lack access to healthcare, especially in the South. And so maybe just something as simple going to that doctor and saying, hey, something doesn’t feel right. Help me out.

Another thing is a social reason. Oftentimes doctors will see women, women might say something feels off, something is not right. And a physician might write that off as stress or perhaps just paranoia.

And that – that same women (ph), some nurses say may go home and then she may enter premature labor and she may start bleeding. If she would have been at the hospital at the time of this, you know, that could possibly have saved her life.

ALISON STEWART: This makes me think that this is just a very stark example of the bigger issue of that certain populations in this country, based on whether it is race or based on economic standing, have better access to better healthcare.

DANIELLE PAQUETTE: It is incredible to see the numbers. Risk varies drastically by race. In some parts of the country, African-American women are nearly twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related complications.

ALISON STEWART: Danielle Paquette from “The Washington Post,” thank you for sharing your reporting.

DANIELLE PAQUETTE: Thank you, Alison.

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