Molly Gonzales | Contributor

Across the globe, maternal death rates dropped by a third in the 21st century, yet somehow the United States has seen the opposite. We stand with eight other countries, including South Sudan and Afghanistan, in our opposition to positive global health trends. How can a country rich in advanced medical technology, innovation and funding let nearly 700 women per year slip through their fingers? The National Institute of Health reports the US spends more money on maternal health care than anywhere on the globe, yet continues to have the worst maternal health care in the first world. Since virtually half of all maternal deaths could have been prevented, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the United States’ healthcare system and social inequalities.

Research done by the Center for Disease Control connects the poor health of women before their pregnancies to increased mortality rates. Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and poor diet are the leading health concerns for pregnant women, and they are also plaguing our nation. “A healthy pregnancy begins before conception,” the CDC claims. As the number of Americans affected by heart problems climbs, so does the number of women dying in labor or from other pregnancy-related conditions. The Obama Administration saved approximately 50,000 lives with the Affordable Care Act, providing coverage to Americans who otherwise were left abandoned by the government. While this is a promising accomplishment, it is yet to make a large enough dent in the maternal health crisis.

Statistically, African American women are 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related ailments than any other ethnic group in the United States. “The magnitude of this black-white gap in maternal mortality is the greatest among all health disparities, and it’s growing!” says Michael Lu, an associate professor of obstetrics at University of California Los Angeles. The debate from researchers and doctors continues on what causes this disparity, some blame african american women’s higher susceptibility to heart related ailments while others blame socioeconomic status. However, an emerging theory documented by The US National Library of Medicine points to maternal stress. Is there a demographic in the United States that faces more oppression, scrutiny, stress or subjection than African American Women? Researchers have linked the role of corticotropin-releasing hormone to maternal mortality, a hormone most commonly linked to stress and tension. The statistics are absolute proof of the racial injustice tormenting our nation – specifically black mothers.

The current statistics regarding maternal death rates in America are not reassuring. However, while United States policymakers have fallen asleep, many private organizations and even state governments have stepped up to the plate in an effort to make a positive difference. The California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, for example, has made immense strides in opposing national maternal mortality trends. In fact, because of their work and the work of similar organizations and activists, the state of California has actually decreased the maternal mortality rate since 2009, opposing national trends. The key to their success lies in their precise methods of data collection, which they implement in research and “evidence-based quality improvement toolkits” that specialize in treating preventable pregnancy complications. These toolkits offer local hospitals and clinics assistance specific to what they need.

There is no singular malady to blame for the United States’ maternal health crisis – instead we can look to a combination of social, economic and health-related issues. American’s ever-worsening heart health is at the top of the list, but to stop there would be to ignore the obstacles certain women endure to find maternal care and the social stigma many face in doing so. For this reason, a simple reallocation of funds wouldn’t work, and historically hasn’t made a dent. Looking instead at the health of women prior to conception could potentially save the lives of hundreds of mothers and children alike. A possible initiative to provide education on reproductive health to people, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic status, could also cut maternal death rates –  especially programs that would focus on the importance of prenatal care and healthy lifestyles. Prenatal care is not cheap, and living a healthy lifestyle isn’t either, which opens up the endless loop of health problems American women face every day. Although statistical trends are not promising, the rise of activist groups and organizations dedicated to solving the maternal health crisis has skyrocketed, proving that because this is such a little-known issue, simply opening up the discussion can spread ideas and save lives.