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‘It ignores the reality’: experts react to controversial US maternal health study

Experts have questioned a new study challenging the extent of the US maternal health crisis

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One study alone does not reverse a body of research, experts have warned, after a new paper has called into question the high maternal mortality rates in the US. 

The report has challenged the scale of the maternal health crisis in the US, claiming that data classification errors have “inflated” maternal death rates for two decades.

It said that a change in the way pregnancy was noted on death certificates 21 years ago to improve the detection of maternal deaths led to “substantial misclassification” and an “overestimation of maternal mortality”.

Instead of the maternal death rate more than doubling since 2002, it has remained flat, the paper found.

However, experts have told Femtech World that blaming methodology differences around how mortality calculations are done ignores the harsh reality of what women giving birth in the US face.

“The reality is that mortality rates are a very narrow representation of the maternal health crisis in the US — they simply do not reflect the severity of the problem,” said Anu Sharma, founder and CEO of California-based maternity clinic Millie.

“Regardless of whether or not this specific data has been miscalculated, we undoubtedly have high rates of maternal morbidity, with nearly 50,000 near misses a year, as well as high rates of C-sections, preterm births, NICU stays and poor maternal mental health. On top of that, racial disparities for Black birthing people are significant, as this study continues to affirm.

“None of this is getting better in the face of the massive OB/GYN shortages we’re seeing nationwide, with labour and delivery unit closures happening daily.

“Reducing the US maternal health crisis to methodology differences around how mortality calculations are done, ignores the harsh reality of what mothers giving birth in the US face today.”

Dr Alison Cowan, OB/GYN and head of medical affairs at Mirvie, said: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists publicly disagreed with this analysis. The CDC specifically stated that they feel the paper underestimates maternal mortality.

“What no one is disputing is maternal health is in crisis and we need to devote more resources, not fewer, to solve these challenges.”

Dr Linda Genen, chief medical officer at ProgenyHealth, described the world of data analysis and reporting as challenging, and said that it is frequently hard to have consensus around methodology.

“The article and resulting statements by the CDC and ACOG are case in point. One study alone does not reverse a body of research,” she explained.

Regardless of the various reporting approaches, she said, the United States continues to have a problem that it should strive to solve.

“Having a stable maternal mortality number versus a rising maternal mortality number is not the key issue. The primary issue is that we have maternal death rates in a developed nation that is higher compared to other wealthy countries.”

Dr Sarah Oreck, reproductive psychiatrist and co-founder of Mavida Health, said what is inferred when evidence like this comes out is that maternal deaths are really not a problem. In reality, the findings paint a different picture.

“When you look under the hood of this study, the authors are arguing that maternal mortality only rose slightly over a 20-year period, but the trend that is hidden in those averages is a 17 per cent decrease in direct obstetrical deaths, from complications such as preeclampsia, corresponding with improvements in obstetrical care, but also a 45 per cent increase in indirect obstetrical deaths, from mental health disorders such as substance use and suicide, and a 329 per cent increase in late maternal deaths.

“These data points suggest that while we have been doing a better job of catching and treating physical disorders of pregnancy and birth in the last 25 years, our attention to mother’s mental health and the ongoing care of mothers following a delivery has been precipitously declining.”

Oreck said any movements towards better data collection should be celebrated but she warned that it is vital not to lose sight of how much still needs to change to better support mums and children.

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Singapore-based fertility centre sets up grant for couples struggling to conceive

This grant aims to support eligible Singaporean couples facing financial and family planning challenges

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A Singapore-based fertility centre is to set up a grant to support couples struggling to conceive.

Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore (VFCS) announced that it would set up a grant to support aspiring parents on their IVF journey.

The initial grant is set for at $50,000 SGD and, depending on the take-up rate over the next 12 fiscal months, VFCS plans to increase the pool to benefit more couples in the subsequent years.

The grant will cover the main costs associated with IVF treatments and procedures, including embryo retrieval and transfer, laboratory services and embryo prep. It will also be applicable to fresh and frozen egg transfers.

As grant recipients, their samples will similarly be given a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, a service VFCS provides for all its patients. It locks the patient’s identity with the respective sample. The RFID identifies gametes—eggs, sperms, or embryos—at every stage of the IVF treatment.

According to VFCS, the grant will also include access to counselling services and wellness resources.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional toll and occasional frustration that infertility can take on individuals and couples, especially for some who are still young and healthy,” said Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at VFCS.

“The common deterrent of going for fertility treatment is always associated with the cost, more so in a private care setting where their only source of funds is through Medisave.

“By alleviating their financial concerns, we hope ReadyBaby Fertility Grant empowers patients to approach their IVF journey, focusing on their clinical needs and working towards a healthy pregnancy and less on financials.

“With access to the necessary treatments and support, patients can embark on their path to parenthood with renewed confidence, knowing they have the clinical resources and guidance they need to navigate this journey,” he added.

Tim Kwan, VFCS’s managing director, said: “We believe every couple deserves the opportunity to experience the profound joy of parenthood.

“With the ReadyBaby Fertility Grant, we aim to support aspiring couples on their IVF journey and help them bring new life into the world.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be married Singaporean couples diagnosed with medical infertility by a fertility specialist and first-time parents who have not tried IVF before.

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Canadian insurer launches partnership to support women’s health

Members of the Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross will have access to a dedicated women’s health platform

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Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving

The Canadian insurer Medavie Blue Cross (MBC) has partnered with the virtual health platform sanoLiving to support women on their menopause journey.

Currently, more than 10 million Canadian women are navigating menopause, often with little support and misinformation about treatments.

With sanoMidLife, sanoLiving’s online menopause platform, Medavie Blue Cross members will have access to a national women’s health platform tailored to provide care and services for women going through the menopause.

The service includes personalised assessments, access to clinicians, treatments, educational content, peer support and AI assistance.

“Many women lack support for their menopause transition due to the misunderstandings of what is ‘normal’ and misinformation about treatments,” said Angela Johnson, co-founder and CEO of sanoLiving.

“Women are seeking solutions that allow them to thrive during midlife. We are thrilled about our alliance with Medavie Blue Cross, and our shared commitment to providing access to care that empowers women.”

Anita Swamy, senior vice president operations at Medavie Blue Cross, added: “We’ve heard first-hand from our members about the need for more menopause-related services.

“Our partnership with sanoLiving creates an innovative way to increase access to care for our members as we continue to focus on the support women need to navigate their benefits and provide forward-thinking options to support their health.”

Studies report one in 10 women exit the workforce due to unmanaged symptoms. Early onset of menopause and symptoms before age 45 can elevate the risk of health issues like heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis.

With this new service, Medavie Blue Cross and sanoLiving are aiming to open up the conversation around menopause, reduce stigma and work towards giving women the access to the care they need.

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US start-up raises US$2.32m to address pelvic health concerns

The Flyte intravaginal device aims to treat stress urinary incontinence and strengthen pelvic floor muscles

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The US women’s health start-up Pelvital has raised US$2.32m in funding to address “unanswered” pelvic health issues.

Minnesota-based Pelvital aims to restore pelvic health with its first product Flyte, an FDA-cleared intravaginal treatment for stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and weakened pelvic floor muscles.

The device, originally developed by physicians from the Arctic University of Norway, uses mechanotherapy, a treatment modality that when paired with an active pelvic floor contraction stimulates tissue regeneration and the creation of neuromuscular memory.

The company will use the funding to speed up the commercialisation of Flyte and raise awareness of pelvic health issues.

“Completing this round is an important step in continuing Pelvital’s unwavering dedication to provide women with innovative solutions for pelvic health, including the treatment of SUI,” said Lydia Zeller, president and CEO of Pelvital.

“This funding will play a crucial role in accelerating our commercialisation of Flyte with a strong emphasis on expanding payor coverage and enhancing clinical education and clinician awareness.”

With this final close, Zeller said, Pelvital would welcome new investors including Pier 70 Ventures, Life Science Angels, Tech Coast Angels Orange County, and Blue Pacific Fund.

Preetha Ram, managing partner at Pier 70 Ventures, would join the Pelvital board of directors.

“Joining Pelvital’s board alongside this investment round is truly an honour,” Ram shared.

“Pier 70 and I are thrilled to be part of this transformational opportunity, as Pelvital’s mission aligns beautifully with our dedication to support disruptive technologies that shake up the status quo in healthcare.

“Pelvital’s pioneering work is shaping a future where women’s health receives the attention and innovation it deserves with novel medical devices like Flyte.”

Oscar Moralez, founder and managing partner of Boomerang Ventures who led the investment round, said: “We are thrilled for the successful completion of this round as we aim to tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges.

“Our participation aims to address the chronic underfunding in women’s healthcare. Investing in Flyte, a truly groundbreaking treatment, addresses underserved pelvic health issues like SUI and contributes to raising vital awareness.”

Two published clinical trials have validated Flyte’s safety, efficacy and durability of treatment effect for women with SUI.

Most recently Pelvital published a paper in Therapeutic Advances in Urology, showing that 71 per cent of study participants achieved dry or near dry conditions as evidenced by a reduction in 24-hour pad weight after using Flyte for between two and 12 weeks.

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