KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (KHON2) — As some states in the U.S. continue to push for women to be stripped of bodily autonomy and personal determination, maternal death rates continue to soar with little movement made to protect birthing-persons from death and abuse. Over 700 birthing persons die each year in the U.S.
According to the latest statistics, nearly 24 birthing-persons die per 100,000 live births. This is far higher than our peers in The Netherlands where only one birthing-person dies per 100,000 and Australia where only 2 birthing-persons die per 100,000.
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To make it worse, black birthing-persons in the U.S. have a much higher mortality rate at over 55 per 100,000 live births.
Infant mortality rates are even higher. As of 2022, there are 548 infant deaths per 100,000 births while our European Union counterpart has approximately 322 infant deaths per 100,000. Keep in mind that the U.S. population is approximately 117 million fewer than the EU making the concentration of deaths in the U.S. much higher.
The World Health Organization recently did a study on the abuse that pregnant persons endure while giving birth. According to the study, just over 17% of birthing-persons “reported experiencing one or more types of mistreatment such as: loss of autonomy; being shouted at, scolded or threatened; and being ignored, refused or receiving no response to requests for help” while in labor.
In Hawai’i, the numbers are not much better. For every 100,000 lives births, there are nearly 15 birthing-persons who die with 490 infant deaths. This number has increased since 2013 when Hawai’i reached its lowest death rate of 9.5 maternal deaths.
“It is well known that the United States has one of the highest perinatal morbidly and mortality rates compared to other developed countries. Our mothers and babies are not doing well; and unfortunately, Hawai’i is no exception. Our disparity ratios are one of the worst in the nation; and specifically in Hawai’i county, data shows that our mothers and babies are most vulnerable and have difficulties with access to care,” said Sunny Chen, Executive Director, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai`i.
“Our moms and babies are suffering. However, we know that many of our maternal deaths are preventable; and we can make a difference,” concluded Chen.
The Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawai’i [HMHBCH] announced that they are opening a new Kailua-Kona-based office and second Mana Mama mobile clinic. This move is meant to provide more support for pregnant, postpartum and birthing people and their families who continue to experience limited resources for maternal and infant care.
HMHBCH launched a mobile unit on O’ahu in 2021 which has been able to help over 4,000 mothers and babies and their families.
“We piloted our mobile clinic on O’ahu; and based on its immense success, we are replicating the model on Hawai’i Island where access to care is limited,” explained Chen. “We provide culturally-anchored programs through a community-based midwifery model of care. We drive our van directly to where people are, ensuring equitable access to care.”
HMHBCH also has taken steps to ensure that their services are environmentally friendly with solar and battery power. The van, which can accommodate two patients at a time, includes a patient bed, a handwashing station, a toilet, a vaccine refrigerator and fetal monitoring and ultrasound capabilities.
The staff are trained to perform prenatal and postpartum visits, well-mom exams and reproductive health screenings, infant checks, vaccination administration and more; and mothers are gaining more access to nurse practitioners, doulas, certified midwifes, lactation specialists and social services connections as HMHBCH expands.
The staff of HMHBCH on the Big Island held a blessing ceremony on Friday, Feb. 10 for their new facility and mobile van.
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It is their hope that they can bring down the number of people who die as a result of childbirth and infants who die during the birthing process or shortly after being born.