Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Maternal Morality Rate

This post was prompted by an article we read on Common Dreams by Johnny Barber, “Whatever Happened to Women and Children First?” It is reachable here and worth reading if you’re interested in Afghanistan.

I noted in that article that the United States ranks poorly in this category. I thought I would look into that. Using 2008 data from a report jointly sponsored by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank (link), I’ve constructed a table that shows where the United States ranks. The report is titled Trends in Maternal Mortality, 1990 to 2008. Forty-nine countries have a better Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR), 120 worse. The MMR is expressed as maternal mortalities per 100,000 live births. The U.S. has an MMR of 24, as does Saudi Arabia. Here is the tabulation:

Striking here is that countries nearest but still better than us are not in the industrialized category and predominantly Muslim countries. Those below us (Uruguay - 27, Lebanon - 26, Fiji - 26, and Chile - 26) are also industrially modest, except perhaps Chile.

Countries with large populations, and thus great diversity, tend to do worse than small and developed places. Russia comes it at 39, China at 38, and India at a high 230 rate. Greece has the lowest MMR and Afghanistan the worst: a staggering 1,400 mothers die for every 100,000 babies born there.

My source also shows 1990 data. Now for the 51 countries shown in the listing, 42 had improved their MMR in the 1990-2008 period, one had been unchanged, and 8 had a worse MMR rate. The United States fell into this last category. In 1990 its rate had been 12! We had slid back.

This has implications for the health insurance system that countries have in place. No doubt about it, we have the best health care system in the world, but its reach is obviously short. Else we wouldn’t rank at the bottom of the developed world. In countries where the systems are well organized, wealth is present, and the health care systems are modern, the results outperform ours, in many cases by a three-fold measure. Take for instance those with an MMR of 8 in the table. Yes, the list includes France, Finland, and Australia. But it also has tiny Malta and Qatar, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. Outperforming the U.S. of A. Who’d have thought it?

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