More mothers die in, or right after, childbirth in the United States than any other developed country, and that number is growing. Alaska has a lower rate than the national average, but still sees 6 to 13 maternal deaths each year, according to the Alaska Maternal Child Death Review Committee. Rates are highest among Indigenous mothers in Southwestern Alaska.
The Alaska Maternal Child Death Review Committee recently released a review of 16 maternal deaths in Alaska. More than half of all the deaths occurred in Southwest Alaska, and more occurred among Indigenous mothers.
“We see disparities by race just like the rest of the country. And in Alaska, that particularly looks like a disparity for Indigenous women,” said Vanessa Verigin, the manager of the committee.
Verigin said that 87% of these deaths are preventable. The main causes of preventable deaths are substance abuse, postpartum mood disorders that lead to suicide, and homicide.
“Some of the things that the committee often believes would help prevent those losses of life is social supports and comprehensive perinatal care that includes mental health screening and support,” said Verigin.
Verigin said that this could be support from family and friends. It could also be the ability for patients to get treated in the language they are most comfortable in, as well as the availability of mental health services through the phone or over the internet. She also said that a post-birth home-visiting program can have positive outcomes for mothers who are at risk for substance abuse or suicide.
Hospitalist with Obstetrics Dr. Elizabeth Bates, with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, said that YKHC offers these programs and more. Bates added that negative outcomes in pregnancies can arise from disparities in public health availability, and that YKHC is also working to address those disparities in the Y-K Delta.
“For YKHC, we are trying to promote things like tobacco cessation, addressing gestational diabetes, and then also the social determinants of health, such as access to water. These types of things we're working to address on a sort of regional public health level,” said Bates, who added that our nation has a long way to go in addressing maternal mortality.
The Alaska Maternal Child Death Review study shows that Alaska has a long way to go as well. Maternal death rates are on the rise. Since the 90s, the average maternal deaths per year have doubled in Alaska.