THE BLOG
03/07/2016 02:35 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2016

Dying To Give Birth: 3 Reasons American Women Are Dying of Pregnancy Complications

This year's International Women's Day theme envisions a world with true gender equity by 2030 and asks government leaders to address the challenges holding girls and women back from their full potential. At the top of each leader's list should be maternal mortality, which causes 800 women to die each day from entirely preventable causes. For a variety of reasons such as difficulty accessing quality healthcare or essential drugs, 99 percent of those deaths occur in developing nations.

Yet, if you believe that maternal mortality is an issue that doesn't affect women in the U.S., think again.

The U.S. is the only developed nation where the maternal death rate is actually rising!

This upward trend means that this leading nation is now in the company of such impoverished places as Afghanistan, El Salvador, and South Sudan.

Here's what these escalating numbers look like on a smaller, more understandable scale:

• Two women die every day from pregnancy-related causes.

• Some parts of America have maternal mortality rates as steep as Sub-Saharan Africa.

• Pregnancy complications are the 6th most common cause of death among women age 20 to 34.

How could this be happening? Why are American women 3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their counterparts in other developed nations like Britain and Japan?

Here are 3 reasons you may not be aware of:

1. Like women in developing nations, women here also face a range of barriers preventing them from obtaining prenatal care. In rural areas across the U.S., hospitals and clinics are few and far between while those serving low-income communities, particularly in urban settings, are often overcrowded and understaffed. And those who are on staff may be overworked or simply unqualified to provide skilled care. Thousands of women are uninsured and those who are eligible for Medicaid receive fewer prenatal care visits at one of the ever-diminishing hospitals and clinics that still accept the low Medicaid reimbursement.

2. America's healthcare is crippled by chronic racism. A report by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) shows that over the past 50 years, black women who gave birth in the U.S. were approximately 4 times as likely to die as white women!

Latina women in California aren't fairing much better. If a Latina has a complication like preeclampsia, for instance, she is 8 times more likely to die than a white woman with the same condition (a black woman with preeclampsia is 10 times more likely to die).

That same national study by the ARHP on black-white and Mexican-white racial disparities shows that of the five medical conditions that are common causes of maternal death and injury in America (preeclampsia, eclampsia, obstetric hemorrhage, abruption and placenta previa), black and Latino women did not have a higher prevalence of these conditions, as some healthcare professionals will tell you.

They were simply more vulnerable to low standards of healthcare and discrimination. Black women in the study were 2 to 3 times more likely to die than the white women who had the same complication while Latina women faced a higher risk of complications like postpartum hemorrhage than white women due to medical neglect.

3. No matter a woman's race, doctors and nurses routinely preempt "pregnant women worries" by assuring mothers-to-be that their bodies will naturally do what they are programmed to do, that women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, that they must trust in Mother Nature. If a woman happens to suspect something might be going wrong - doesn't Mother Nature also kill! - she is more likely than not to be ignored or dismissed by the very people who are in charge of her care.

In fact, since 1998, during the same period that saw a rise in maternal mortality, the U.S. also experienced an unprecedented 25% hike in near deaths. Between the years 2004-2005, close to 70,000 women almost died in childbirth in America.

This means that 1 woman every 10 minutes almost dies in America from childbirth - a reprehensible fact given that the U.S. spends more than any other country on healthcare and the highest hospitalization costs are related to pregnancy and childbirth, some $86 billion a year.

So what's a girl to do?

Giving birth shouldn't cost women their lives.

Celebrate women today by getting in touch with your local congressional representatives on the issues that matter to you, advocating that:

• Quality health care is provided equitably to all women, free from racial and ethnic discrimination.

• The U.S. Government require all hospitals in all states to collect and review data on maternal mortality to develop and disseminate recommendations that lead to fewer deaths.

• Hospitals and doctors develop and implement standard sets of approaches for treating the top three common childbirth emergencies (embolism, hemorrhaging, and preeclampsia).

• Women often know when something is wrong. Rather than dismissing "pregnancy worries," doctors and nurses need to take a woman's anxiety seriously.

Worldwide, 1 woman dies every 2 minutes from pregnancy-related complications. And for every woman who dies, approximately 20 others suffer serious injuries, infections or disabilities.

In the U.S., 1.7 million women give birth each year and more than one third of them experience some type of complication that adversely affects their health.

I don't know about you, but 2030 seems too far away to prevent women from dying of largely preventable causes!

Let's celebrate International Women's Day by taking the necessary steps to begin saving women's lives today.

This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.

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