Two new reports by United Nations agencies revealed that although there has been significant progress in reducing maternal mortality worldwide over the last decade, much more can be done to protect women’s lives.
Maternal deaths have dropped 45 percent since 1990, according to the new UN data. In 2013, an estimated 289,000 women worldwide died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications – a sharp decrease from 523,000 in 1990. The current 2013 rate, however, still comes to about 800 women dying every day, one every two seconds. Only 11 countries have reached their Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015, and several countries - including the United States - actually saw their maternal mortality rates increase over the last decade.
99 percent of all maternal death occurs in the developing world, with women in Sub-Saharan Africa facing the greatest risk of dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yet, most maternal death is preventable.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study published this week points to the common causes of maternal death. 28 percent of maternal deaths are caused by pre-existing medical conditions that are exacerbated by pregnancy, such as diabetes, malaria, HIV, and obesity. Severe bleeding was the second most common cause. Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, obstructed labor, unsafe abortion, infections, and blood clots are additional causes.
“Together, the two reports highlight the need to invest in proven solutions, such as quality care for all women during pregnancy and childbirth, and particular care for pregnant women with existing medical conditions,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, the Assistant Director-General of Family, Women’s, and Children’s Health for WHO. The reports also demonstrate the need for more accurate data, strong health systems, progress in preventing adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and comprehensive sexual health education.
To fully combat maternal mortality, the United States and the international community must also work to provide universal access to reproductive health care, including contraception, empower women and girls economically and socially, ensure access to basic education, end child marriage, confront sexual violence and conflict, and provide comprehensive health care, including access to safe abortion to women and girls who are victims of war rape.
Media Resources: World Health Organization 5/6/14; The Lancet Global Health Journal 5/6/14; United Nations; ThinkProgress 5/6/14; Feminist Majority Foundation 5/9/14