Is Maternal Death Declining Worldwide?

The web is abuzz today with Denise Grady’s New York Times article about a new study just released by The Lancet, indicating maternal mortality has taken a dramatic nosedive worldwide—huge news. Previous studies have indicated that the number of women dying during pregnancy or childbirth has not changed substantially in the last 30 years, despite strong efforts. Grady writes, “the findings challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.” Grady goes on to report not only the incredible findings, but an interesting twist—that some organizations involved in advocacy around maternal health asked The Lancet not to release the findings for fear that it would limit their ability to raise funds for the issue.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that evidence of fewer women dying would somehow lessen support for this important cause. If anything, I agree with Dr. Richard Horton, who wrote a comment accompanying The Lancet article. Horton wrote that the declining numbers actually help the cause. If the numbers are correct, that would show the organization for whom I work, Pathfinder International, and our colleagues’ years of work to save women’s lives, is paying off.

Of course, if the reduced estimates are accurate, the picture is not all rosy. Even the lower estimate indicates that hundreds of thousands of women are dying from pregnancy-related causes, and that is unacceptable. There are many countries where maternal mortality has not declined—and some where it has increased (including the United States, although researchers point out this may be because of changes in maternal death reporting in North America). The study indicates that maternal mortality would have also improved at a greater rate if not for the rise of HIV. HIV/AIDS has been a significant factor contributing to maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa—where the AIDS epidemic is taking the greatest toll.

With that in mind, what do you think? In seeing recent findings that indicate access to skilled birth attendants, better health care, family planning, and economic resources all help save women’s lives, would you be less inclined to support safe motherhood initiatives, or more inclined? Would you be less likely to sign a petition asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or other world leaders to focus more foreign aid on maternal health care? Or would these new findings make you more inclined to take action, or donate to a nonprofit working on maternal health because the results indicate their work is helping?

No woman should face the risk of death during a time of excitement and joy—and this new study indicates we may be on the right track toward reducing that risk. As these findings undergo more discussion and analysis, I hope it will point to the strong possibility that we can achieve progress by 2015 on the UN Millennium Development Goals. That would truly be an inspiration for all of us, that by acting together, we can change the future of our world.


Photo: Pathfinder International


Erin R.
Erin R7 years ago

Thank you for the post!

Karen J.
Karen J7 years ago

My understanding is that the new health care bill includes millions for abstinence only sex education.

Mervi R.
Mervi R7 years ago

Didn´t know this, thanks for posting!

Jim S.
Jim S7 years ago

As a proud progressive, I am hungry for any good news on the issues I care about. I am very encouraged to know that the mind-numbing stupidity of the Catholic Church and the American religious right is not entirely subverting international family planning, and that hopefully the Obama Administration's repeal of the "gag rule" (aka Mexico City policy) will accelerate this trend.

Hopefully the same will start to occur domestically, as they (please) uphold their promise to phase out money for abstinence-only programs, expand insurance coverage, and make college education more affordable. Already, last year's number for teen pregnancy is down, which broke a very alarming 3-year increase.

In terms of actual tangible consequences of public policy, George W.Bush was the most pro-abortion president in American history, and Obama may turn out to be the most anti-abortion president. As progressives, we must repeat that loudly and proudly

Laurie H.
Laurie H7 years ago

Thank You for this article~

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

"Back alley abortions", I have heard this for over 60 years. But really it boils down to responsibility and accountibility. I use to be Pro Choice, no wiggle room for me. But than I got a job in health care and saw, with my own eyes, the abuse of many women having the procedure --abortion. And yes, Dianne one would hope as we get older wisdom is our reward. And with that too, came a clear realization for me, that we were using as an excuse the fact that no would say when the fetus was a baby. In fact without a fertilize seed you have no rose, the same is true for all living things.

There are ethical reasons for some cases of abortion, mother or child's life endanger, incest, and rape.

It is time woemn quit falling back on a 60 year phrase "back alley abortions" and live up to a responsibility of an action she willinglly entered into. And so should the father.

I know no one wants to hear the above, but it's how I feel. I am not a right-wing Republican, far from it, and I am not religious. I guess part of it is I am just tired of people refusing to take responsiblity for their actions or be willing to be held accountable for them.

Agnes Mina
Agnes Mina7 years ago

I love how in the States there is still a fervent anti-abortion movement as well as abstinence-only movement despite everyone knowing that abstinence-only "sex ed" does genuine damage rather than good and on top of it their maternal mortality rates actually increased. As such, I henceforth consider it an even greater potential undeserved death penalty to deny a woman in the States an abortion than before, when I considered it to be a potential death penalty due to back alley abortions. But now statistics show that maternal mortality rates increased by 50% in the past 10 years! So they try to force women to keep pregnancies they don't want and not even provide them with safe enough means to carry the child to term. Nice. Yes, that was sarcastic.

Dianne D.
Dianne D7 years ago

I'm surprised the numbers have gone down as I've been hearing more about women dying from child birth in my city. I thought the numbers were going up.

Carole Tokaruk
Carole Tokaruk7 years ago

I read that it was not a drop in maternal deaths but that the UN had purposely given a high false figure.....You know what that means of course. There was an agenda for more contraceptives, more abortions,more condoms.....whatever it takes to get what you want to promote.

Marianna M.
Marianna M.7 years ago

please God save them.