The number of maternal deaths in California and around the country rose by a worrying 40% to 1,205 in 2021 according to a report released in March 2023 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report reveals that there were 32.9 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in the United States in 2021, which is a far higher maternal death rate than all other developed countries and 10 times higher than the rates in Japan, Spain, Austria and Australia. A death is considered maternal when a mother dies while pregnant or less than 42 days after giving birth.
Global maternal death rates
The World Health Organization keeps track of maternal death rates around the world. The average maternal death rate in developed countries is 12 deaths for every 100,000 live births. In some developing countries, the maternal death rate is as high as 430 deaths per 100,000 live births. However, these figures are not always comparable because there is no internationally agreed-upon standard for tracking this data.
Maternal deaths in all demographic groups rose in the United States in 2021, but the increase was particularly high among Black Americans. Reviews conducted by state committees concluded that more than 80% of the maternal deaths in the United States could be prevented. Recent data suggests that maternal deaths peaked in 2021 and have already started to fall. The CDC report does not speculate about the possible causes of the alarming rise in maternal deaths, but experts believe that health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital staffing shortages and medical malpractice are likely contributory factors. When asked about the 40% increase in maternal deaths, a CDC representative said that the United States was “not faring well.”
America as an outlier
The United States has one of the most advanced health care systems in the world, which makes the sharp rise in maternal deaths in 2021 difficult to explain. The CDC has not provided any answers, and the reasons cited by experts are not very persuasive because the pandemic was a global phenomenon that put pressure on hospitals around the world.