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Maternal mortality rate has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, study finds

Experts say women of color are affected by this trend more than white women

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Photo (c) DjelicS - Getty Images
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected consumers in countless ways, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland explored the risks to women’s long-term health and longevity. According to their findings, rates of maternal mortality have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The increase was really driven by deaths after the start of the pandemic, which are higher than what we see for overall excess mortality in 2020,” said researcher Marie Thoma. 

Risks for women’s longevity

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics. They looked specifically at maternal mortality from before the pandemic (2018 to March 2020) and then during the pandemic, from April 2020 to December 2020. 

Ultimately, the team observed significant increases in maternal mortality during the pandemic. The maternal death rate increased by nearly 35%, while late maternal deaths increased by more than 40% during the pandemic. 

The researchers explained that the COVID-19 virus itself was responsible for nearly 15% of these maternal deaths. Additionally, women with diabetes or cardiovascular concerns – two conditions that worsened COVID-related symptoms – were at a higher risk of maternal death. 

It’s also important to note that Black and Hispanic women were at a much higher risk of maternal death than white women. The maternal death rate spiked by nearly 75% in Hispanic women and by 40% in non-Hispanic Black women. 

“For the first time in more than a decade, the maternal mortality rate for Hispanic women during the pandemic was higher than that for non-Hispanic white women, a shift that may be related to COVID and deserves greater attention moving forward,” said researcher Eugene Declercq. 

Moving forward, the researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand the effect that COVID has on women’s health and longevity. 

“We need more detailed data on the specific causes of maternal deaths overall and those associated with COVID-19,” Thoma said. “Potentially we could see improvements in 2021 due to the rollout of vaccines, as well as the extension of postpartum care provided for Medicaid recipients as part of the American Rescue Act of 2021 in some states. We’re going to continue to examine this.” 

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