COLUMBIA - South Carolina health officials are launching a new effort to review deaths associated with pregnancy.

This week, the Department of Health and Environmental Control announced the creation of a committee that will meet regularly to try to find ways to make pregnancy, and the months that come after it, safer for South Carolina women.

The South Carolina Pregnancy-Associated Maternal Mortality Review Board, which is holding its first meeting next month, will review all cases of women who died either during pregnancy or shortly thereafter.

According to DHEC, 49 South Carolina women died during either pregnancy or within a year of the end of their pregnancies. More than half of those - 25 deaths - came within six weeks of delivery, DHEC said. During that same time frame, there were 233,445 live births in South Carolina, according to the agency.

"Nobody should be dying in 2013 of childbirth," DHEC director Catherine Templeton said Tuesday. "They are going to go and look at everything about these deaths."

The state health department already closely monitors infant mortality. In 2012, 435 babies born in South Carolina died before their first birthday. The infant mortality rate in this state is 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births - significantly higher than the estimated national infant mortality rate, which was 5.9 in 2012.

Exact details for the panel, like how many members it will have or how many times it will meet per year, are still being worked out. But Dr. Judith Burgis, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, said that she expects the group to be comprised of coroners, mental health professionals and a variety of other health care providers.

The panel hopes to learn what impediments to health care those women might have faced - like lack of transportation to get to the doctor - and how to improve that situation for other women.

Other eventual recommendations could include established protocols for how to deal with a woman who hemorrhages during childbirth, or the right treatment for an expectant mother with heart disease.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all maternal deaths could have been avoided.

---

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.

Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP