The World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing its third annual World Patient Safety Day on maternal and newborn care to bring awareness and promote global action in relation to understanding patient safety and reducing harm. Childbirth, albeit a time typically full of celebration and joy, is also full of health risks, resulting in a staggeringly high mortality rate for both women and newborns. Fortunately, many of these deaths are preventable with increased access to high quality prenatal and perinatal care.
According to recent stats from the WHO, over 800 women a day die from preventable causes connected to pregnancy and childbirth and nearly 6,700 newborns die daily. Although these numbers are sizable, research shows that up to 79% of the newborn deaths and 66% of maternal deaths could be avoided with different care. Establishing awareness of this issue is just the first step in working together to reduce these harms.
Knowing that much of this harm could be prevented with skilled care, systems and processes must be implemented that support healthcare workers, especially as pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic compound a pre-existing burnout problem. The WHO encourages all health safety leaders to advocate for the adoption of best practices at the point of care to prevent avoidable risks. Technology can play a role in helping to keep mothers and babies safer – from making care policies easily accessible at the point of care to collecting data to be carefully analyzed so that proactive safety measures can be used to find early warning signs of sepsis or infection.
Access to quality healthcare is not equitably distributed globally, and 94% of all maternal deaths occur in low and lower middle-income countries. Patients living in low-income communities are more likely to experience increased barriers to receiving pre- and post-natal care, therefore resulting in worsened safety outcomes. Additionally, communities of color are at far greater risk for experiencing maternal mortalities, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths. For example, Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, with a majority of these deaths being linked to a lack of quality care, which research suggests is tied to structural racism. The WHO calls on healthcare systems and providers to reach the unreached to ensure our most vulnerable communities are receiving comprehensive care throughout their pregnancies to reduce disparities in care.
We encourage you to join us in raising awareness on this important issue, in engaging all of the necessary stakeholders to adopt effective and innovative improvement strategies, and by calling for urgent and sustainable scaled efforts to improve access and safety to all women and newborns during childbirth. Knowing that many of these events are avoidable gives us the power to make a change and improve maternal and newborn health outcomes dramatically by working together as an industry and community.