More than 1,200 women died of maternal causes in 2021, nearly doubling since 2018, according to statistics released by the National Center for Health Statistics Thursday.
There were 861 maternal-related deaths in 2020 and 754 in 2019, before the pandemic, although even that figure represented an increase of nearly a 100 deaths from the prior year.
The NCHS noted the mortality rate for black women was 2.6 times higher than for white women in 2021, although the increase across all races was significant.
“The latest data released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show significant increases in U.S. maternal mortality rates in 2021 and send a resounding message that maternal health and evidence-based efforts to eliminate racial health inequities need to be, and remain, a top public health priority,” said Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, MD, FACOG, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in a statement Thursday.
While the spike, due in large part to COVID-19, was not unexpected, Hoskins said the 40% increase is “stunning.”
“The new data from the NCHS also show a nearly 60% percent increase in maternal mortality rates in 2021 from 2019, just before the start of the pandemic,” Hoskins said. “The COVID-19 pandemic had a dramatic and tragic effect on maternal death rates, but we cannot let that fact obscure that there was—and still is—already a maternal mortality crisis to compound.”
Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) has emphasized the role board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner WHNP-BCs can play in helping to address the crisis.
“WHNP-BCs are clinical experts in providing routine and complex women’s and gender-related healthcare, promoting healthy behaviors before, during, and after pregnancy; preventing development of risk factors for maternal health complications prior to pregnancy; identifying and addressing existing risk factors prior to and during pregnancy and postpartum; and optimizing maternal health outcomes,” NPWH said in a position statement last year.
In response to the growing number of maternal deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a website with resources for healthcare providers including prevention tools and other educational materials for clinicians by specialty in multiple languages.