Maternal and Child Mortality Rises in Texas

By: Ivanne Guevara

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Data Published on Tableau: https://public.tableau.com/views/MaternalandChildMortalityinTexas/Dashboard1

It is believed that as medicine advances, people live longer since doctors are able to prevent diseases and diagnose causes of death. Even though there have been many medical improvements in the past decade, mortality rates for mothers have actually increased in the past 10 years, according to the 2014 Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force Report.  This is a puzzling issue for many as they attempt to explain the reason for this increase, but Texas legislation has not chosen to take action against this mortality rise. This inaction is despite the fact that Texas itself has had some of the highest mortality rates in the country and in the world, according to World Health Organization statistics. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has instead taken initiative to cut funding from the budget from Planned Parenthood to provide “ greater access to safe health care for women.”

There is not a clear culprit as to what is causing this epidemic, but upon careful exploration of Texas health reports and maternal mortality data, a correlation became evident between the two data sets. Child and maternal mortality was occurring in the same areas of Texas, and these areas had major amounts of people without insurance.

In order to see where most women in Texas are having birth complications leading to death, we separated the data by county and then observed the areas most concentrated with the highest maternal deaths. From the data visualization, one can see that most of the maternal deaths happen in Eastern Texas regions. There happened to be a tie in the two highest areas of these concentrated regions. Bexar County and Tarrant County are the counties with the greatest maternal deaths in Texas. They have each  had 11 maternal deaths in their respective counties. These results are followed by much smaller amounts in Brazoria (five), Fort Bend (four) and  Denton ( four). At first glance, these results are puzzling. One cannot help but ask why Bexar and Tarrant County have the highest maternal deaths. It is not until we explored different health complications that we found an answer to explain this phenomenon.

Average Maternal Deaths by County

On the following visualization, we took the counties in Texas and filtered the data to demonstrate people without insurance per county. The results were striking: they mirrored the results found in the data for maternal mortality. Not only was the general area of East Texas the same, but Bexar and Tarrant County were also the two counties with the highest number of uninsured people. However, Tarrant County did break the tie by having nearly 66,000 uninsured people, a significant advantage over the second-place contender, Bexar, which had 52,000 people living in its county without insurance. This set of data proves that there is a correlation between uninsured people and mother mortality rates since it has occurred in the exact same counties.

Persons without insurance in Texas

It is safe to assume that some of these maternal deaths are caused by the lack of proper healthcare since they cannot afford to pay for the expensive hospital bills and cannot receive the best treatment. This makes sense considering that Bexar and Tarrant County are rural counties where hospitals are not so close. There are numerous resources on the web available for residents in Tarrant County to find a midwife to give home births including the Tarrant County Birth Network. On the tbbirthnetwork.org website, they disclosed that in 2014 there was a fatal Legionella infection in a newborn after a water birth. This incident could have affected the child and maternal deaths in 2014.

Next, it was necessary to compare the maternal deaths with the child mortality deaths in order to determine whether the root of the problem is usually the mother or the child and see which areas are the most worrisome for child mortality. The term “child” in this data refers to infants and children under five years old. Considering this range, the numbers are a bit more overwhelming. The top county to have the most child mortality was Harris County, with 2,500 child deaths. This was followed by Dallas,Tarrant, and finally Bexar County. The last two choices appear once more to signify an alerting trend in these regions. Overall Bexar and Tarrant have the highest reason of concern with their high maternal and child mortality rates.

There is certainly a link maternal and child mortality in the Eastern Texas regions. No tie could be made with the other health factors such as obesity, drug poisoning, and drinking to have a correlation in Bexar and Tarrant County. However, a direct correlation was evident between the areas exhibiting high numbers of uninsured people and child/maternal deaths. If these counties were aware of these complications, they would be able to possibly provide more aid to these people lacking proper healthcare. Texas Tribune comments :“Experts recommend increasing mental and behavioral health screenings, improving access to health services for women the first year after their pregnancy”. If the Texas government is serious about protecting its women and children, it should consider implementing new legislation to solve and remedy increasing this problem.

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