As I wrote in the recent post, The Joy and Burden of Motherhood, “The greatest joy of motherhood is seen as the sheer gift of bringing a life into this world and helping to shape them from the moment of birth and then to watch them grow into a happy, productive and successful member of society.” However, it is not only the fear of loosing a child before they have a chance to grow and prosper that mothers must bare as the fear of death for both mother and child also looms for many. Last month a report entitled Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010 was released by the UNFPA, WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. The report reveled that the number of women who die annually in pregnancy or childbirth has dramatically fallen in the last decade from more than 543,000 to 287,000, a 47 percent decline.
Additionally, the report noted that the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) declined from 400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 210 in 2010–an annual decline of 3.1 percent. However, 40 countries continued to be listed as having a high MMR (defined as 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births or more) in 2010. Chad and Somalia were reported to have extremely high MMRs with 1100 and 1000 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Other high MMR countries included: Sierra Leone (890), the Central African Republic (890), Burundi (800), Guinea-Bissau (790), Liberia (770), the Sudan (730), Cameroon (690), and Nigeria (630). The report shows that shockingly one-third of all maternal deaths occur in just two countries, India (20 percent in 2010) and Nigeria (14 percent in 2010). Of the 40 countries with the highest global rates of maternal death, 36 are located in sub-Saharan Africa.
The report looks at the progress to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5, which aims to improve maternal health. MGD 5 has set a target of reducing the MMR by 75% between 1990 and 2015 and achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Additionally, the report highlighted the progress of those countries who have significantly improved maternal health. Ten countries have now reached the MDG target of a 75 percent decrease in maternal deaths: Belarus, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Iran, Lithuania, Maldives, Nepal, Romania, and Viet Nam.
While the drop in maternal mortality is significant and cause to celebrate, it is somewhat short-lived. The decline in deaths is undoubtedly progress, but the fact is that 287,000 women continue to die needlessly during pregnancy or childbirth. The sobering fact is that every two minutes across the globe a woman dies due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth.
At the reports official release, UN officials stated that while the figures were lower, they were still all too high the steps needed to fight maternal mortality is laid out before us;
“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,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UN Population Fund.
The report states that the four most common causes are severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortions. Some 215 million women continue to lack access to “modern contraceptives,” Dr. Osotimehin also stated, claiming that that ensuring they have access may seek to further reduce the number of maternal deaths by one-third. Therefore, this leaves one to take from this report not just the successes but also the failures, and thus seek to ensure that the lessons learned from them are met with great promise. Countries and international bodies must seek to see that the issue of women’s health is placed on the top of the agenda if we are to see a “true” and lasting decline in both maternal and child mortality.