US maternal mortality increased 33% during pandemic, hitting Black and Hispanic women especially hard

Mortality rates nearly doubled in Hispanic women since March 2020.

June 28, 2022, 11:30 AM

Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have climbed 33% since the start of the pandemic, with Black and Hispanic women dying at higher rates than White women, according to a new study.

The study, published by JAMA Network on Tuesday, reveals how the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect the health care of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States.

“This issue is not new and the pandemic just reiterates the problems we already face in this country,” Dr. Jacques Moritz, a board certified OB/GYN and medical director at Tia, a health care model that includes multiple clinics and services for female-related health care needs, told ABC News.

Researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) to see how COVID-19 affected maternal deaths during or within 42 days after pregnancy. They recorded the number of deaths associated with and without a COVID-19 diagnosis and compared it to pre-pandemic numbers.

The report found that overall maternal mortality increased by 33% since the start of the pandemic. These changes may be due to conditions directly related to COVID-19, such as respiratory infections, or from indirect factors experienced by an overburdened health care system.

Hispanic women had nine more deaths per 100,000 births, a 74% increase from the years before the pandemic. Non-Hispanic Black women had 16.8 more deaths per 100,000 births, a 40% increase from previous numbers.

White women, however, had only 2.9 more deaths per 100,000 births, a change of 17%.

The findings of this study reinforce prior research showing how racial and ethnic minorities have felt the inequalities in health care since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We know that access to proper prenatal care continues to affect Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women. This sheds more light on the current situation in our communities,” Moritz said, who was not involved in the study.

Access to care, medical mistrust and systemic discrimination are just a few of the inequities that contribute to more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths among racial and ethnic minorities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Changes need to be made, otherwise the next pandemic we get, the numbers will be similar,” Moritz said.

Nicholas Dumlao, MD, is a psychiatry resident physician from BronxCare Health System and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

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