Goal 3 - Good Health

The Quiet Crisis Among African Americans: Pregnancy and Childbirth Are Killing Women at Inexplicable Rates

Every year, around 700 women in the United States die as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications. These range from viral or bacterial infections, to stress, to tears that result in blood loss. As many as 60,000 expectant mothers suffer problems like these that come close to costing them their lives. That is often why many expectant mothers consider looking at this life insurance option so that should the worst happen their child and family are still provided for.

America is one of the most developed nations in the world. Average life expectancy has been generally increasing over at least the last five decades, and deaths from illnesses that were once widely fatal, including polio, smallpox, tuberculosis and AIDS, are sharply falling.

Yet when it comes to the natural process of childbearing, women in the U.S. die in much higher numbers than those in most developed nations, where maternal deaths are generally declining. A large number of these childbearing U.S. women are African-American.

A woman in the U.S., where the maternal death rate more than doubled between 1987 and 2013, is more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than in any country but Mexico among the 31 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that reported data.

There are various theories why – large numbers of women without adequate health insurance, risk factors related to stress and discrimination. Much of this is attributed to persistent poverty, which can prevent people from accessing health insurance, good healthcare, and pressures people to work when ill. Many next of kin often look for cheap caskets or even ask for cardboard coffins as their financial situation makes it difficult to plan for adequate funerals.

Funerals which may be coming more frequently in what has become one of America’s most confounding public health problems: African American women are dying of pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes here at stunningly high rates.

The maternal death rate in Texas after 2010 reached “levels not seen in other U.S. states,” according to a report compiled for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, based on figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black women in Texas are dying at the highest rates of all. A 2016 joint report by the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force found that black mothers accounted for 11.4% of Texas births in 2011 and 2012, but 28.8% of pregnancy-related deaths.

“This is a crisis,” said Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, a Dallas-based nonprofit that has taken on the issue. In May, the center published its first report: “We Can’t Watch Black Women Die.”

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