Rahul Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., F.A.C.P.
Senior Vice President and Chief Medical & Health Officer
Every 12 hours, a woman in the United States dies from pregnancy-related causes, making our nation one of the most dangerous in the developed world for birthing mothers.
Additionally, about 50,000 women experience life-threatening pregnancy complications each year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 380,000 babies are born too soon each year, putting them at greater risk of death before they reach their first birthdays, or developing lifelong health problems that affect their brain, lungs, hearing, and vision.
Every mother deserves a healthy pregnancy and every baby deserves a healthy start in life. Access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage and high-quality health services produces better health for moms and babies.
As a primary care doctor, I know firsthand that, whenever possible, it is vastly preferable to prevent serious maternal and infant health conditions than to have to treat them urgently once they occur.
Access to specialized care
Babies born sick or too soon, or babies that have a difficult birth, may need to be treated in a hospital’s newborn intensive care unit, where they can get around-the-clock care from a team of experts. Pregnant women, especially those at high-risk, need healthcare providers and hospitals that are trained to recognize the warning signs of pregnancy complications, and that offer specialized care and equipment.
However, more than 5 million women in the United States today live in what we call “maternity care deserts,” meaning there are no nearby hospitals or providers that offer obstetric care. Although you may think this happens only in rural areas, the problem persists in urban communities as well.
There are also troubling differences in the quality of care low-income women and women of color receive during childbirth, even within individual hospitals. What’s worse is that women of color bear a lot more of the burden than others.
Programs for better care
It is essential we improve the quality of healthcare for moms and babies in this country, while also making it more available, more affordable, and more convenient.
Quality improvement initiatives in hospitals can save lives and improve the health of all patients. These programs can help cultivate a culture of safety, and educate providers about cultural competency, how to eliminate implicit bias, and other ways to reduce disparities and improve care. In addition, states and communities can work to address typical barriers to receiving care, like lack of access to transportation and housing.
When women and babies don’t have access to the care they need, the health and economic well-being of the entire community suffers. A healthy start in life strengthens families and the nation.
Rahul Gupta, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., FACP, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical & Health Officer, March of Dimes