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Medical society wants national approach to track, review information on maternal deaths, severe morbidity

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The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) says a growing body of research out of the United States suggests maternal mental health conditions are a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S., with more than 80 per cent of those deaths being deemed preventable by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control.

Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, says a study done in 2022 revealed about 25 per cent of woman will have some type of depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy or post-partum.

"And when you look at those numbers, only about 15 per cent actually go forward and access services," says Murphy-Kaulbeck during an interview with CTV Atlantic's Todd Battis.

"There's a lot of variables to that... stigma, just lack of access to resources."

The study also found it can take anywhere from a month to 12 months to access mental health services, according to Murphy-Kaulbeck.

"I think we're seeing that in general across the population. But even more for this specific care for women, it's even less access."

Currently, Canada does not have a national approach to track, review and collect information on maternal deaths, near misses and severe morbidity.

As a result, the SOGC is calling for a national framework for standardized collection and surveillance of maternal mortality and morbidity data in the country.

The SOGC is also urging the federal government to take a leadership role in encouraging and assisting provinces and territories to collect, standardize and share detailed datasets on maternal deaths, perinatal mental health and maternal morbidity.

"There is data being collected. And normally it's vital statistics, hospital discharge databases that are used to dump into the federal system. The problem is, when you speak specifically to maternal mortality, perinatal mental health and one of my focuses is going to be stillbirth, the provinces and territories all collect very differently, so there's not standardized information from every province," she says.

"So, what one province captures, another province may not. And if you want to look at a problem... you need good data. You need to know what the problem is, what are the variables, what are the things that are affecting that... Only then can you look at prevention strategies and really getting into the problem."

As far as deaths related to pregnancy, Murphy-Kaulbeck says as a developed country, Canada does well. However, she adds other countries are doing better.

"If you look at the U.K., they have a phenomenal system for maternal mortality where they do a confidential enquiry on every death. They have the data, they're getting sources from many different places, whereas in Canada, we're not even really sure what our numbers are," she says.

"So, if there's no capturing that at the time of death a woman is pregnant, or has been pregnant within the post-partum period of up to one year as the World Health Organization recommends, it's not captured. So, there's a death that we're not capturing and we're not adding to our database to be able to again, look at strategies and prevention."

Murphy-Kaulbeck says when it comes to adverse pregnancy outcome or maternal morbidity and mortality, it's known that there are certain groups that are affected more than others.

"U.S. data has very clearly shown that Indigenous and Black people are much more at risk. So again, that's something else that our data doesn't always show."

With files from CTV Atlantic's Todd Battis

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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