UN Report Shows Dramatic Drop in Maternal Mortality, But Is It Enough?

The number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications has dropped dramatically over the past two decades according to a new United Nations report.

Trends in Maternal Mortality 1990-2010, released today by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank, estimates there were 287,000 maternal deaths in 2010, a 47% drop from the 543,000 estimated deaths in 1990.

Good news, yes, but not good enough. A woman dies in pregnancy or or childbirth every two minutes somewhere in the world. That’s nearly 1,000 women every day. The four most common causes of death: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, eclampsia, obstructed labor, and unsafe abortions. Ninety nine percent of these deaths occur in the developing world — and most are preventable with proven interventions.

“We know exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise. These interventions have proven to save lives and accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal 5,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, in a statement.

Substantial progress has been made in most regions of the world due to better contraception, increased use of anti-retroviral drugs for mothers with AIDS, and more births attended by nurses, doctors, and trained midwives, according to the report.

The sad truth however, is that despite this progress, Millennium Development Goal 5, which targets reducing maternal death by 75% from 1990 to 2015, will likely not be met by many countries. The vast majority of countries with the highest maternal mortality rates — a whoppping 36 out of 40– are in sub-Saharan Africa. One  third of all maternal deaths in 2010 occurred in just two countries: India, which accounted for almost 20%, and Nigeria, which accounted for 14%.

The United States doesn’t even rank in the top tier of countries in terms of maternal health, according to the report. The U.S. fell behind Western Europe, Canada and Australia, and ranked on a par with Russia, Central and South America and parts of north Africa.

East Asia, which has made the greatest progress in preventing maternal mortality has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84% as opposed to only 22% in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of that is attributable to China, which has a one-child policy and a very high rate of contraceptive use.

“Over a quarter of a million women still die in pregnancy and childbirth each year, and more than 215 million women lack access to modern contraceptives. Meeting the need for voluntary family planning for these women would not only fulfill a human right, it would also reduce the number of maternal deaths by a third. This is a highly cost-effective public health strategy,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

This is in no way meant to diminish the remarkable work that’s been done. Nearly halving the maternal death rate over the course of 20 years is nothing to sneeze at. And as the report notes “when governments take a strategic approach to the safe motherhood challenge — by deploying trained midwives, ensuring adequate essential supplies, making family planning accessible and providing timely obstetric care to women with complications, we are getting results. Still, there is more work to be done in delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.”

But this newest report, which comes on the heels of Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers last week, points to major development gaps, and the need for wealthy countries to step up to the plate. The G8 countries meeting this week at Camp David have ample opportunity to commit to preventing maternal deaths. The question is, will they?

Related stories:

The State Of The World’s Mothers

President Obama Declares National Women’s Health Week

Education Key To Reducing Maternal Deaths In Chile


Photo credit: iandeth via flickr


J C Bro
J C Brou5 years ago


Colin K N A U F
Colin K5 years ago

Con't from below

...causing later addictions and all manner of other ailments that make for great repeat 'customers' we call patients...enough patience...start stamping your feet to change this travesty against health; and advocate for sane health policy put in place to stonewall the marketing marionettes who use fear mongering to herd women through the revolving doors of the hospital and the path to pharmacy. Our future depends on it.

Colin K N A U F
Colin K5 years ago

The biggest contribution to Maternal and Infant mortality in the USA and other countries under the 'gun' of American hegemony... militarily, medically and maternally....IS THE WESTERN MEDICAL MODEL OF INDUSTRIALIZED BIRTH...and a profound lack of education of women and their doctors. OBYGYNs learn more about leasing a Lexus and finding an underwriter for their insurance (which they will need due to the high rate of iatrogenesis harm and nosocomial infection) than turning a breech baby...so they use a knife on one out of three mothers and mentally and physically damage our young in the process...soldiers are not the only ones to suffer from terror....Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the result of witnessing a knife coming at you after nine months of safety and comfort...and then witnessing your world for the first time with eyes blurred by your mothers blood...and tortured by all manner of other painful pricks, pulls and highly invasive interventions on the stainless steel altar of 'progress' ....when if we told the truth, we would realize women are fully primed and ready for birth by their innate handbooks printed within their DNA...if we only let mother nature and women trust their nature and realize their massive amounts of potential and empowerment from a birth away from the control, noise, confusion, mistakes, infection and turmoil of a hospital.98% birth in a hospital...many don't leave… 90% are drugged...and of course so is the baby...causing later addictions and

Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

America ranks along side parts of North Africa? WAY TO GO, THIRD WORLD COUNTRY! That's what happens when Neo-Nazis get in our government.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

Good to see improvement; but indeed it is not enough.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle5 years ago

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.... that's wonderfully hilarious david r.. You obviously just don't read the other articles. There's one aout a man who commits suicide after his eviction. And obviously you don't see that most cultures are partriarchal based and many treat women as second or third class citizens. The purpose of Care2 is to raise awareness for those suffering at the hands of others. And it's a simple and obvious fact that women suffer more than men in this world. So as a result of a higher ratio of suffering for women than men, naturally and justly there are more articles regarding women suffering.
I would applaud more articles about the suffering of men. But I can't for an instance bemoan the articles about the suffering of women. And it doesn't mean women are totally absorbed with their own rights though it is justified if they apply more energy to their rights. They're long overdue. The articles here are about justice and change. And any change that helps one group means the change for another group is that much closer.
So through your energy into helping the plight for women. As laws and rules change for the better for them it paves the way for making the world better for men.
It also works for that old proverb, how does a man make himself a happy life? Make your women happy.

david randell
.5 years ago

the endless relentless drumbeat of women totally absorbed with their own "rights", prerogatives, and special privileges goes on. i have yet to see word one on this cite about the plight of men, despite the wide array of statistics that show men right here in the usa to be seriously endangered in many ways..suicide rates, like expectancy, combat deaths, educational opportunity... all of which finds care2 silent.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thank you for the information.