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Push for accurate reporting of maternal deaths

Push for accurate reporting of maternal deaths

April 13, 2011

From the Washington Times:

On Saturday [April 9], Birth Matters VA is putting on the sold-out Healthy Mothers, Healthy Birth Summit at the Dulles Campus of Shenandoah University. On Sunday, midwife Ina May Gaskin, author of the classic Spiritual Midwifery and the just-released Birth Matters, is taking her Safe Motherhood Quilt on a march to the Capitol.

The goal of both events is to raise awareness about the underreporting of maternal mortality in the United States and to call for infrastructure that accurately records this problem nationwide so that it can be studied and the rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth can be lowered.

Ina May Gaskin, far right, with the Safe Motherhood Quilt at the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association’s October 2010 Freedom for Family Wellness Summit.

In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control released a report showing that no improvement in maternal mortality had been made since 1982. Additionally, the report showed that black women face four times the risk white women face of dying for causes related to pregnancy or childbirth.

The report put the 1982-1998 maternal death rate at 7-8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births; the Healthy People 2000 goal set in 1987 was 3.3 or fewer maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In addition to noting that the U.S. had not made any progress toward the Healthy People 2000 goal, the CDC report also points out that its report’s numbers reflected only known maternal deaths. On the problem of underreporting, the report reads: “The number of deaths attributed to pregnancy and its complications is estimated to be 1.3 to three times that reported in vital statistics records.”

Gaskin explained in an interview that infrastructure changes are necessary to obtain accurate data that will allow the problem to be studied. In the U.S., there is no standard death certificate whose use is required or whose list of questions includes recording whether a woman was pregnant within a year of her death. Contrast this to the United Kingdom where maternal deaths must be reported within 24 hours and a team collects data that cannot be used in any malpractice suits. Rates are studied over three years when analysis is made, along with recommendations and lessons learned.

In the U.S., Gaskin noted, “we’re taught to think it’s terrible to have government involved in health care.” But, she asked, “How else are you going to get correct data?” If hospitals – corporations – have their bottom line to protect, we are naïve to think that accurate voluntary reporting is going to happen.

Read more about the Healthy Mothers Healthy Birth Summit here.

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