This letter was printed in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Sunday, April 18th.
I disagree with those who urged The Lancet to delay publicizing the recent decline in global maternal mortality ("Maternal Deaths see surprising decline worldwide," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, April 14, page 1A). It should be a beacon of hope that improved nutrition, access to prenatal care, and the availability of skilled attendants is increasing. In 80% of the world, those skilled attendants are midwives. After witnessing the work of Ibu Robin Lim in the Sarasota Film Festival screening of “Guerilla Midwife,” I am inspired to believe that the resurgence of traditional midwifery worldwide is no small factor in this global shift toward healthier birth.
However, one disturbing trend remains missing from the Lancet findings. In the United States, maternal mortality continues to rise sharply. According to the recently released Amnesty International report "Deadly Delivery," U.S. maternal mortality ratios have doubled from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006, placing us 41st in the world in this category. The report attributes the increase to inadequate access to family planning, less than optimal health, late or inadequate prenatal care, inadequate or inappropriate care during delivery, and limited access to post-natal care.
The United States spends more on health care than any other nation in the world, yet we are failing our pregnant women. We must prioritize accountability of data collection, increase access to midwifery and to prenatal care, eliminate inappropriate obstetric intervention, and mandate postpartum visitation for new mothers.