Maternal Death and African-American Women: Alarming Study

A California reports says that black women in the state die of pregnancy-related causes at rates comparable to those in developing countries.

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In California, African-American women are dying of pregnancy-related causes at rates four times higher than those of white women and other ethnic groups, and as high as those seen in some developing countries.

According to PBS News, a new report from the California Department of Public Health has highlighted that stark disparity: The mortality rate for black women was 46 deaths for every 100,000 live births from 2006 to 2008, while the rates for Asian, white and Hispanic women in the same period ranged from 9 to 13 deaths per 100,000 births.

The study's numbers showed that African-American women in California have a maternal-mortality risk comparable to rates in Kazakhstan and Syria, according to World Health Organization data.

And this isn't just your normal racial health disparity. "African-American people generally have worse health outcomes than Caucasian people ... but not to this degree, not fourfold," said Conrad Chao, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco, who worked on the report. "What surprised me when we got through the numbers was the magnitude of the disparity."

Nationally, the numbers aren't as bad in California, but they're still troubling: A 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis showed that black women had about three times the risk of maternal death as white women.

Experts have suggested a number of possible explanations for the higher numbers in this study: improved data collecting and reporting, women delaying pregnancy, higher rates of pre-existing health conditions such as hypertension, and higher rates of cesarean deliveries. They believe that obesity could also play a role.

Michael Lu, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA, who was not involved in the analysis but studies race and socioeconomic disparities in maternal and infant health, summed up the results best: He told PBS News, "The magnitude of this black-white gap in maternal mortality is the greatest among all health disparities ... and that gap is growing. It's unacceptable."

Read more at PBS News.

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