U.S. pregnancy deaths show outsized toll on Black women in pandemic's first year, report shows

View of the entrance to the Emergency room of Memorial Hospital Marysville, after multiple people were reported unconscious at a nearby Hampton Inn
View of the entrance to the Emergency room of Memorial Hospital Marysville in Marysville, Ohio, U.S., January 29, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse

Feb 23 (Reuters) - Black women in the United States were nearly three times as likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than white women, according to a government report published on Wednesday.

Overall, as the pandemic took hold, the number of maternal deaths rose 14% to 861 in 2020 from 754 in 2019, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The maternal death rate in 2020 among Black women was 2.9 times that of white women, up from 2.5 times in 2018 and 2019, the data showed.

About one-third of the pregnant women and new mothers who died in 2020 were Black, even though Black Americans make up just over 13% of the U.S. population, the report showed.

Age also proved to be a significant risk factor. The mortality rate in women aged 40 and above was nearly eight times that of women younger than 25, according to the data.

An international data review published last year showed that rates of stillbirth and maternal deaths rose by around a third during the COVID-19 pandemic, with pregnancy outcomes worsening overall for both babies and mothers worldwide.

Pooling data from 40 studies across 17 countries, that review had found that lockdowns, disruption to maternity services, and fear of attending healthcare facilities all added to pregnancy risks, leading to generally worse results for women and infants.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Kanishka Singh is a breaking news reporter for Reuters in Washington DC, who primarily covers US politics and national affairs in his current role. His past breaking news coverage has spanned across a range of topics like the Black Lives Matter movement; the US elections; the 2021 Capitol riots and their follow up probes; the Brexit deal; US-China trade tensions; the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan; the COVID-19 pandemic; and a 2019 Supreme Court verdict on a religious dispute site in his native India.