Is Mexico going through a maternal mortality crisis?

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Photographer: Annice Lyn/Getty Images AsiaPac

The pandemic has had a lot of ripple effects on healthcare systems around the world. In Mexico, one of those was that the number of women dying from childbirth increased by more than 60%.

Women die during or shortly after giving birth way more often than you might expect, even here in the US. In New Jersey, for example, about 26 women die for every 100,000 births — one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the nation. Those rates are linked to a lack of access to care like routine check-ins before and after birth that can catch problems before they become life-threatening. 

In 2021, as Mexico battled the height of the pandemic, the maternal mortality rate was about three times as bad as it is in New Jersey. Before Covid, things had actually been improving. But since the pandemic began, more than 2,000 women have died in Mexico from childbirth.

For the latest installment of Bloomberg’s The Pay Check podcast, reporter Kelsey Butler flew down to Mexico to figure out what happened there. (I edited the episode — you can listen to it here!)

What Kelsey found was that problems were already brewing before March 2020. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had decided to reimagine the country’s health-care system to make it free for everyone. But that plan ran into snags, and it wasn’t running smoothly by the time the pandemic overwhelmed Mexican hospitals.


Centenario Hospital Miguel Hidalgo Administers Covid-19 Vaccination As Mexico Cases Stand At 1.57 Million
Centenario Hospital Miguel Hidalgo in Aguascalientes, Mexico​​​​Photographer: Mauricio Palos/Bloomberg

Then Mexico made a decision that would have negative effects on pretty much anyone suffering from an ailment other than Covid: It converted some hospitals into Covid-only hospitals. That meant that if you showed up with some sort of pregnancy complication at your local hospital, they might just turn you away. If you already lived somewhere far away from a hospital, like in the rural parts of the Yucatán Peninsula where Kelsey visited, you might suddenly be even further from somewhere you could seek care. Add to that mix the fact that pregnant women might also be afraid of going to a hospital and catching Covid and you’ve got the potential for minor health issues to become major ones. 

But this isn’t just a pandemic story or a Mexican story. In the US, there are about 15 midwives or doctors for every 1,000 births. Other high-income countries with lower maternal mortality rates like Sweden or Australia have about five times that amount. Overworked health care workers in a rush can make mistakes or miss things. Fewer caregivers can also mean fewer check-ins before and after pregnancy, too. That’s if women have access to care at all. 

Research has shown that addressing the global shortage of midwives would prevent 280,000 deaths per year by 2035. In the US, there are some plans to attack this problem. New Jersey kicked off a program where nurses visit new parents at home for a wellness check for both mom and baby. A handful of states including Florida, Maryland, and Minnesota reimburse patients for doulas who provide emotional and other nonmedical support before, during, and after pregnancy.

Source: El Universal

Mexico Daily Post