The Boston Globe (U.S.), March 16,
HE NEWS that the United States suffers from an unconscionably high rate of women dying in childbirth is not a total surprise. After all, most people by now have heard that the United States lags behind many developed nations in infant mortality, and the two statistics are related.
In the new survey of maternal mortality released last week by Amnesty International, the group that monitors human rights abuses, the US rate is five times that of financially inept Greece and three times that of economically depressed Spain. In all, about two American mothers a day die from complications of childbirth, and half the deaths are preventable, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No one familiar with the health care system can be shocked by the disparities, and most people seem inured to them. But before dozing off again, one should stipulate:
That a test of a nation's greatness is how it treats its most vulnerable.
That a nation cannot take full pride in providing the most sophisticated treatments to people in their final years, while neglecting simple measures that could save the lives of young mothers and their babies.
That both maternal and infant mortality will not be prevented by any simple measure. Rather, the problem requires concerted, ongoing attention.
Indeed, the health insurance overhaul being debated in Congress will not solve the problem by itself, any more than programs directed specifically at the young and poor such as WIC and SCHIP. But providing health insurance to more pregnant women is part of the solution, and will save lives.
As critics of health insurance reform are apt to point out, larger cultural and socioeconomic divides play a role in the relatively high rate of maternal and infant mortality. The health care system can't be the only vehicle for promoting public health, any more than public schools can be the only vehicle for helping children learn. Yet this isn't an argument against health reform. It does mean that ending invidious disparities in life is also part of the battle.
A great nation keeps on trying. Amid all the legitimate debates over how to achieve greater health coverage while reining in costs, some sense of urgency about the human cost of inaction has been lost. For those who wonder whether to support expanded access to health insurance, think of the expectant mothers who lack coverage, at risk to their lives and those of their babies.
Send this page to a friend!