The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding new maternal health research centers in an effort to end the epidemic of deaths among pregnant women and new moms in the US, home of the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
In 2021, for the latest year of data available, more than 1,200 women who were pregnant or had been pregnant in the previous 42 days died. This represents a 40 percent increase from the previous year, making the US the most dangerous country among developed nations for pregnant women and new moms.
The figures, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marked a six-decade high in maternal deaths in the US, with black women almost three times more likely to die than their white counterparts.
In an effort to protect these women, the NIH has announced that it will award $24 million in financing the first year to establish 10 centers throughout the country dedicated to studying and preventing maternal mortality.
The project, called Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence, will focus on populations most at risk of health inequalities, including ethnic minorities, people living in poverty, trans people, and people with disabilities.
The NIH will award various grants over the next few years totaling $168 million, as long as funds are available.
Pregnant black women are almost three times more likely to die in the US than their white counterparts.
Every year, tens of thousands of women in the United States experience serious complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health problems.
Although the US is a high-income country, the fact that health coverage is not universal means that those without health insurance receive inadequate care.
The researchers say there is also an unintended bias among medical providers that negatively affects black women in terms of the healthcare they receive.
Dr. Diana Bianchi, director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said: “The magnitude and persistence of disparities in maternal health in the United States underscore the need for research to identify solutions evidence-based programs to promote health equity and improve outcomes across the country.’
She said the new research centers will “generate critical scientific evidence” to “help guide clinical care and reduce health disparities during and after pregnancy.”
The Maternal Health Research Centers of Excellence will include 10 research centers, a data innovation and coordination center, and an implementation science center.
The institutions will work together to design and execute research projects to address the different factors that affect the maternal mortality rate.
They will join forces with state and local public health agencies, community health centers, and faith-based groups.
According to CDC figures, 1,205 pregnant women died in 2021, up from 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019.
An earlier report from the Government Accountability Office indicated that at least 400 maternal deaths in 2021 listed Covid-19 infection as a contributing factor, accounting for most of the increase from previous years.
Pregnancy leaves women more vulnerable to infectious diseases, since their heart, lungs, and kidneys already have to work harder during pregnancy.
During the pandemic, it was discovered that covid can also damage the placenta, cause blood clots more easily and increase the risk of preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication caused by high blood pressure.
The condition, which usually involves high blood pressure and protein in the urine, affects around six per cent of pregnancies in the UK and US.
Most cases are mild, but preeclampsia can cause serious complications for mother and baby if not treated early.
Symptoms include severe headache, stomach pain and nausea, which women may mistake for “normal” pregnancy symptoms and therefore not seek medical help until the condition becomes severe.
In addition to health and medical problems, experts added that hospital staff burned out and high levels of vaccine reluctance among pregnant women worsened the crisis.
Many doctors and nurses were stressed after being inundated with covid patients during the pandemic, meaning they spent less time in person with their patients and many pregnant women were afraid to get covid vaccines due to the limited or false information about the effects of vaccines on fetuses. .