Where do we stand?

Causes of maternal deaths in developing regions by percentage (1997-2007)

Bar Chart

Quick Facts

  • More than 350,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, almost all of them — 99 per cent — in developing countries.
  • The maternal mortality rate is declining only slowly, even though the vast majority of deaths are avoidable.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s maternal mortality risk is 1 in 30, compared to 1 in 5,600 in developed regions.
  • Every year, more than 1 million children are left motherless. Children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.
A mother and child recover from malaria in a hospital in Burundi. The Government provides free health care for pregnant women and children under five.
Feeling Better. Photo: Maria Cierna

Significant improvement in maternal health

Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high. New data show signs of progress in improving maternal health — the health of women during pregnancy and childbirth — with some countries achieving significant declines in maternal mortality ratios. But progress is still well short of the 5.5 per cent annual decline needed to meet the MDG target of reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio by 2015. Progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa, with some countries halving maternal mortality levels between 1990 and 2008. Other regions, including Asia and Northern Africa, have made even greater headway.

Most deaths preventable

Most maternal deaths could be avoided. More than 80 per cent of maternal deaths are caused by haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labour and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy. Most of these deaths are preventable when there is access to adequate reproductive health services, equipment, supplies and skilled healthcare workers.

Better care for mothers

Most More women are receiving antenatal care and skilled assistance during delivery. In all regions, progress is being made in providing pregnant women with antenatal care. In North Africa, the percentage of women seeing a skilled health worker at least once during pregnancy jumped by 70 per cent. Southern Asia and Western Asia reported increases of almost 50 per cent, with coverage increasing to 70 per cent of pregnant women in Southern Asia and 79 per cent in Western Asia. In 2008, skilled health workers attended 63 per cent of births in the developing world, up from 53 per cent in 1990. Progress was made in all regions, but was especially dramatic in Northern Africa and South-Eastern Asia, with increases of 74 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively.

Large disparities persist

Most Large disparities still exist in providing pregnant women with antenatal care and skilled assistance during delivery. Poor women in remote areas are least likely to receive adequate care. This is especially true for regions where the number of skilled health workers remains low and maternal mortality high — in particular sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia and Oceania.HIV is also curtailing progress, contributing significantly to maternal mortality in some countries.

Adolescent girls most at risk

Most The risk of maternal mortality is highest for adolescent girls and increases with each pregnancy, yet progress on family planning has stalled and funding has not kept pace with demand. Contraceptive use has increased over the last decade. By 2007, 62 per cent of women who were married or in union were using some form of contraception. However, these increases are lower than in the 1990s.

Access to contraception needed

Most Some 215 million women who would prefer to delay or avoid childbearing lack access to safe and effective contraception. It is estimated that meeting the unmet needs for contraception alone could cut — by almost a third — the number of maternal deaths. Funding of reproductive and maternal health programmes is vital to meet the MDG target. Yet official development assistance for family planning declined sharply between 2000 and 2008, from 8.2 to 3.2 per cent. Other external funding has also declined. There is now less money available to fund these programmes than there was in 2000.

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