The total number of deaths of women worldwide caused by childbirth or complications during pregnancy fell by 34% between 1990 and 2008, according to Trends in Maternal Mortality, a report released by WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and the World Bank.
In 1990 a total of 546,000 women died because of a pregnancy complication or childbirth; in 2008 the figure dropped to 358,000, the report reveals.
However, this mortality-rate drop is less than half of what is needed for the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing maternal mortality ratio by 75% between 1990 and 2015. For the target to be reached, experts say the annual mortality decline needs to accelerate.
Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO, said:
The global reduction in maternal death rates is encouraging news. Countries where women are facing a high risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth are taking measures that are proving effective; they are training more midwives, and strengthening hospitals and health centres to assist pregnant women. No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care.
The four major causes of death from pregnancy/childbirth include:
- Severe bleeding after giving birth
- Hypertensive disorders
- Unsafe abortions
A pregnant woman in a developing nation is 36 times more likely to die while pregnant or during/after childbirth compared to a woman from an industrialized country.
Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, said:
To achieve our global goal of improving maternal health and to save women's lives we need to do more to reach those who are most at risk. That means reaching women in rural areas and poorer households, women from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, and women living with HIV and in conflict zones.
WHO believes these new estimates are proof that it is possible to prevent many more women from dying. Countries have to invest more in their quality of care and health systems.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the Executive Director of UNFPA, said:
Every birth should be safe and every pregnancy wanted. The lack of maternal health care violates women's rights to life, health, equality, and non-discrimination. MDG5 can be achieved," she adds, "but we urgently need to address the shortage of health workers and step up funding for reproductive health services.
WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank say they are concentrating their resources on nations with the greatest burden. They are helping governments develop and align their national health plans so that maternal and newborn health improvements can be accelerated.
Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, said:
Maternal deaths are both caused by poverty and are a cause of it. The costs of childbirth can quickly exhaust a family's income, bringing with it even more financial hardship. Given the weak state of health systems in many countries, we must work closely with governments, aid donors and agencies, and other partners to strengthen these systems so that women gain significantly better access to quality family planning and other reproductive health services, skilled midwives at their births, emergency obstetric care, and postnatal care for mothers and newborns.
The report reveals:
- Out of 87 countries with maternal mortality ratios of at least 100 in 1990, ten of them are on track with an annual decline of 5.5% between 1990 and 2008.
- 30 countries made either no progress, or insufficient progress since 1990.
- Maternal mortality decreased by 26% in sub-Saharan Africa between 1990 and 2008.
- In Asia, in 1990 a total of 315,000 maternal deaths occurred, compared to 139,000 in 2008; a 52% drop.
- Less than 1% of all maternal deaths in 2008 occurred in developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 57% of the total, and South Asia 30%.
We still need to do more to strengthen national data collection systems. It is vital to support the development of complete and accurate civil registration systems that include births, deaths and causes of death. Every maternal death needs to be counted.
"Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2008"
Estimates developed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank
Written by Christian Nordqvist