The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a bold plan to improve the nation’s abysmal reputation of pregnancy-related deaths and complications.
“Maternal mortality should be a ‘never’ event,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement announcing the new plan.
The plan includes a new public-private partnership, a Call to Action from the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Adm. Jerome M. Adams, and a number of goals and priorities.
Roughly 700 women die from pregnancy complications in the U.S., according to HHS. Worse still, the vast majority of these pregnancy-related deaths, an estimated 2 out of 3, are preventable. Another 25,000 women in the U.S. suffer unintended outcomes from labor or delivery that have significant short- or long-term health consequences.
Cesarean delivery rates in the U.S. are also well above those of its peer countries, at nearly 32% of all deliveries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Within the U.S., pregnancy-related deaths and complications vary widely across demographics, with Black women having the worst outcomes compared to non-Hispanic white women and Hispanic women. As part of its plan to address the gap in maternal health outcomes for Black women, HHS partnered with March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies.
The new roadmap to improve these dire statistics includes a target to cut the maternal mortality rate by 50% by 2025. In addition, HHS wants to reduce low-risk cesarean deliveries by 25% and achieve blood pressure control in 80% of women of reproductive age with hypertension.
“The health of our nation depends on the health of our mothers, and making the U.S. the safest place in the world to give birth is one of my top priorities,” Adams said. “A mother or mother-to-be dies every 12 hours in the U.S. These tragedies are unacceptable. We cannot truly improve maternal health—until we acknowledge and address the disparate outcomes many women of color face.”
According to HHS, work toward these 2025 goals is already underway. Namely, the CDC launched a campaign called “Hear Her” in September 2020 to raise awareness of life-threatening warning signs during and after pregnancy. An updated Move Your Way Activity Planner from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion includes new filters for pregnant and postpartum women to track activities and find health tips. In addition, the Office on Women’s Health announced two prize competitions in October 2020 aimed at improving maternal health.
“Protecting mothers is a national priority,” said Dorothy Fink, HHS deputy assistant secretary for Women's Health and Director of the Office on Women’s Health. “These new initiatives will help us to support the long-term health of mothers and babies and ensure the U.S. is one of the safest countries in the world for women to give birth.”