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University of Hawaii professor examines maternal mortality rates

A University of Hawaii medical school professor is working with the state Health Department and local lawmakers to reduce the number of women dying during childbirth in Hawaii.

Mothers in the U.S. are dying of pregnancy-related complications, or maternal mortality, at higher rates than in any other developed country, according to a news release from the University of Hawaii at Manoa released today. While maternal deaths in Germany and Japan have significantly decreased over the past three decades, the situation in the U.S. has worsened by 300 percent.

In Hawaii, maternal deaths account for 5 to 15 fatalities every year.

Scott Harvey, director of residential simulation at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the state’s only obstetric critical care specialist, said there is no clear-cut explanation of why mothers in Hawaii are dying in childbirth. It’s unknown if the mother’s age is a factor, given that deaths have occurred in pregnant teens as well as women in their 40s.

“It’s not been studied before, so we don’t really undersand what the trend is, but that’s the whole point of being able to review all these deaths,” said Harvey, chair of the Hawaii Department of Health Maternal Mortality Review Committee in an UH news video. “And from this, we’ve seen several from sepsis, we’ve seen several from high blood pressure, and also from anaphylactoid reaction (serious allergic or hypersensitivity reaction) of pregnancy. So being able to establish the trends and figure out what is the problem is the first step in order to solve it.

He is urging all women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy should seek care from a professional healthcare provider.

“The unfortunate thing is a lot of the maternal deaths that we’ve seen have had either very minimal or no prenatal care,” said Harvey, who earned his medical degree from JABSOM in 2010. “Some (women) didn’t even know they were pregnant.”

In 2016, Hawaiʻi lawmakers mandated a comprehensive study of child and maternal deaths. The mortality review committee submitted its second annual report to the Legislature based on reviews conducted in 2017 and continues to meet twice a year to discuss strategies to prevent future maternal deaths.

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