Other Voices: State needs to take action on maternal mortality

Staff Writer
The Examiner

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has released its first report on maternal mortality in the state.

The report, which is viewable at health.mo.gov/data/pamr, is from the state’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Board, a multidisciplinary board that’s been tasked with examining the causes and contributing factors associated with maternal mortality and determining interventions that could prevent such deaths from occurring in the future.

The report is based on deaths that occurred in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. Among its findings:

• The pregnancy-related mortality ratio in Missouri was 26 deaths per 100,000 live births, of which 80% were determined to be preventable.

• In Missouri, Black women are four times more likely to die within one year of pregnancy than white women. Black women also experience a higher rate of severe maternal morbidity (213 deaths per 10,000 live births) than white women (92 deaths per 10,000 live births).

• In Missouri, women on Medicaid are five times more likely to die within one year of pregnancy than those with private insurance.

It’s not just a Missouri problem. Maternal mortality has been tracked nationwide by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1986. Since that tracking system was implemented, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. steadily increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016, the CDC reports.

Why? Reasons for the nationwide increase are “unclear,” the CDC says.

That’s why we’re glad to see that Missouri has taken the first step toward understanding why some people who give birth in our state are dying. But we strongly hope it won’t be the last step. Understanding a problem is good – solving a problem is better.

It would seem that members of the review board agree: “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but through addressing the issues identified by the PAMR board, the state of Missouri will be able to decrease our rate of maternal mortality while simultaneously improving those situations related to this issue,” said Ashlie Otto, the board’s coordinator, in a statement.

That work, we suspect, will largely be up to our state’s public health officials and lawmakers. The report – and the still-to-come reviews of 2018 and 2019 data – should be the foundation for them to develop policy recommendations, help craft new laws or create educational campaigns to drive down the maternal mortality rate in Missouri, and when all the information is in, we urge our state to take action.

– The Joplin Globe