REPORT: Black women 3x more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy-related medical causes and white women are more likely to die from pregnancy-related mental health causes, according to a new report released by the Illinois Department of Public Health Thursday.

The Illinois Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Report covered pregnancy-related deaths occurring in 2016-17. Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy, at delivery, or up to one year postpartum.

It’s the second report of its kind. The first report was released in 2018 and covered pregnancy-related deaths occurring in 2015.

“Reviewing and addressing maternal mortality is important because it’s a key indicator of the well being of the community, and can reflect trends  in the overall health of women of reproductive age,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.

Black women were more likely to die from pregnancy-related medical conditions, according to the report. The top causes of death were from pre-existing chronic medical conditions that were exacerbated by pregnancy, hemorrhage, and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

In comparison, white women were more likely to die from pregnancy-related mental health conditions, including substance abuse and suicide.

The report said Black women are three times more likely to die than white women. That’s cut in half from the 2018 report, where Black women were six times more likely to die than white women.

But, Dr. Ezike said the statistic is not exactly good news.

“While the disparity has narrowed for pregnancy-related deaths between Black and white women, it is not due to conditions improving for Black women, but instead due to worsening conditions for white women, especially due to mental health conditions, including substance abuse disorder and suicide,” she said.

“In order to achieve health equity and reproductive justice, we as a society must recognize, discuss, and address social determinates of health,” said Maternity Mortality Review Committee Chair Dr. Robin Jones. 

Dr. Jones said addressing social determinants of health, such as insurance, health care access, and socioeconomic standing, can help identify what societal changes are needed to improve health outcomes. 

“We cannot achieve health equity until we address these societal factors,” she said.

Dr. Ezike said 83% of pregnancy-related deaths were potentially preventable.

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