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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), maternal death rates in the United States have hit an all-time high – with the most recent statistics reporting, the number increased to 1,205 in 2021, from 861 the year before.
Black women had a death rate of 69.9 per every 100,000 live births, which is 2.6 times higher than the death rate for white women, while Hispanic women have a death rate of 28 per every 100,000 live births.
The CDC has also noted that 84% of maternal deaths are avoidable. As a result, steps must be taken to mitigate the situation, such as expanding availability of prenatal and postnatal care and nutrition services.
The National WIC Association (NWA) believes that the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program should play a significant role in enhancing maternal health outcomes.
Officials have indicated that WIC’s nutrition support during pregnancy and the postpartum period has been demonstrated to improve the nutritional intake of pregnant and postpartum women, which in turn facilitates earlier prenatal care access for pregnant women.
Participation in WIC has also been linked to lower risks of gestational hypertension and premature births, experts stated.
Still, the shocking rise in maternal mortality rates is evidence of a care crisis in the United States, where essential interventions are being withheld from some or all women for lack of funding or other factors, said NWA President and CEO Dr. Jamila Taylor.
Taylor has called the situation “unacceptable” and insisted that quick action be taken to fix it.
She also emphasized that the disparities in maternal health outcomes for pregnant women across all demographics are alarming, and Black women in America are experiencing the worst of it.
“This further highlights the need for interventions that address the underlying issues of systemic racism and discrimination that impact the health and well-being of Black women and communities of color,” Taylor stated.
Moreover, Taylor emphasized that WIC clinics also serve as a gateway to healthcare, connecting both mothers and children with providers and ensuring continuity of care.
She said this access to quality health care can help mothers recognize key risk factors early and avoid preventable outcomes.
“Although President Biden and Congress have taken steps to address this crisis, such as the extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage in many states, more comprehensive solutions are necessary,” Taylor asserted.
Bipartisan legislators have called for an increase of WIC’s postpartum nutrition support to two years in the Wise Investment in our Children Act (WIC Act), and that concept is included among a more holistic response in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
“The NWA is committed to working with all stakeholders to find solutions that create meaningful change,” Taylor stated.
“That includes addressing systemic racism and inequality within the healthcare system, enhancing data collection, and diversifying the WIC workforce to better reflect the communities most harmed by this burgeoning health crisis.”
The government must act now to address this crisis of care and eliminate the racial disparities that plague maternal health outcomes, Taylor continued.
“Black women in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women,” Biden remarked. “This is on top of the fact that women in America are dying at a higher rate from pregnancy-related causes than in any other developed nation.”
The president added that systemic inequities are also to blame.
“When mothers do not have access to safe and stable housing before and after childbirth, they are at greater risk of falling ill,” Biden said. “When women face barriers traveling to the hospital for prenatal and postpartum checkups, they are less likely to remain healthy.
“Air pollution, water pollution, and lead pipes can have dangerous consequences for pregnant women and newborns. And when families cannot afford nutritious foods, they face worse health outcomes,” he said.
Biden said Vice President Kamala Harris has been a leader on the issue of maternal mortality for years and led the charge to improve maternal health outcomes, including by issuing a call to action to address disparities in maternal care.
“She continues to elevate the issue nationally, convening state legislators, medical professionals, and others so all mothers can access the care they need before, during, and after childbirth,” Biden said.