High Maternal Mortality Rates in Rural Georgia

In 2017, Georgia had the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the U.S., with 48.4 deaths per 100,000 births, according to a data study from USA Today. The state is also one of the poorest, with poverty disproportionally affecting black and minority communities.
Rural communities have significantly higher maternal death rates compared to urban areas. Many rural towns don’t have hospitals equipped to receive women in labor and aren’t able to provide women with effective prenatal care.
Georgia’s maternal death rate numbers are concerning but likely don’t provide a full picture of the severity of the situation. The state has consistently failed to collect and review maternal mortality rates, so there’s reason to believe that they’re much higher.

Causes for High Maternal Death Rates
Why are pregnant women in Georgia dying at an alarming rate compared to women in other states?
Lack of access. Barriers to access include lack of education, systemic discrimination within the medical system, and a lack of rural healthcare facility locations.
Cost-prohibitive nature of quality maternal care. Pre- and postnatal care are costly, especially for those without insurance. Many rural-dwelling Georgians lack medical insurance. Hospitals also often cap the amount of Medicaid patients they’ll receive.
Lack of funding for effective medical care. There’s not enough money being funnelled to high-quality healthcare services. The taxpayer-funded crisis pregnancy centers in Georgia, for example, are not medically accredited and are heavily motivated by religious ideology and a pro-life agenda.
Limited pre- and postnatal care. Rural women leave the hospital after delivery and either aren’t followed up on long enough or are not followed up on at all. Rural-dwelling women must often travel long distances to deliver, and they’re unlikely to visit the doctor for prenatal or postnatal check-ups.

Potential Solutions
A report from the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership outlines a series of solutions for dealing with the current maternal mortality rates in rural Georgia, some of which include:
• Increased access to prenatal and postnatal care
• Increased access to and a revision of the requirements of alternative birthing options in rural settings (e.g. midwives and home birth specialists). Currently, the state has strict legal requirements for certified nurse-midwives, which makes it challenging to provide care.
• Recognition of the important role of the Christian church in communities — black communities, in particular — within rural Georgia and research into how these institutions may be harnessed to provide care to mothers-to-be
• Increased education on the relationship between health, inequity, and systemic issues of discrimination for health providers

Earlier this year, two doctors from Mercer University’s School of Medicine received over $5 million in grant money. The funds are being put toward a program to help reduce maternal and infant mortality rates across seven rural counties in the state.
The South Georgia Healthy Start program team will provide clinical care and health education in affected disparate communities. The program also aims to engage the community, develop the workforce, change policy, and perform research activities.

Written by: Steph Coelho

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