1. McSpedon, Corinne Senior Editor


Maternal mortality rates remain a top concern.


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A wide variety of issues related to women's health gained attention in the last year, but the rising U.S. maternal mortality rate and access to care, especially in rural areas, continue to be major stories. The number of women dying during or after pregnancy has been rising in the United States for at least two decades-in stark contrast to other developed nations. Since 1987, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began compiling this information, the number of pregnancy-related deaths has increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births to 18 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2014. A recent CDC report suggests that more than 60% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.

Figure. Serena Willi... - Click to enlarge in new window Serena Williams and her baby. Photo courtesy of Serena Williams / Instagram.

Early last year, Serena Williams shined a spotlight on this troubling trend when she publicly discussed the complications she experienced after the birth of her daughter the previous September. Her experience provided a personal look at a national health crisis that affects women of different races differently: according to the CDC, from 2011 to 2014 the pregnancy-related mortality rate for white women was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births compared with 40 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women.


Despite a renewed focus on improving maternity care, health care experts emphasize that there is an equally pressing need to improve the care women receive throughout their life spans. An increasing number of reported maternal deaths are not associated with pregnancy-specific conditions but with chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and mental health conditions. Moreover, the disparities in maternal mortality rates suggest that prevention efforts must also focus on the social and environmental factors that can raise a woman's risk of dying during or after pregnancy.-Corinne McSpedon, senior editor