Death toll in childbirth still remains high

Posted: 12 October 2007

Maternal mortality in the world is declining too slowly to meet one of the Millennium Development Goals, which aims to improve maternal health and prevent women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth or from causes related to childbirth.

While an annual decline of 5.5 per cent in the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2015 is required to achieve this goal, new figures released by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank show an annual decline of less than 1 per cent. In 2005, 536,000 women died of maternal causes, compared to 576,000 in 1990. Ninety-nine per cent of these deaths occurred in developing countries. Commenting on the new estimates, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, said: "In this 21st century, no woman should die giving life. It is unacceptable that one woman dies every minute during pregnancy and childbirth when proven interventions exist. Millions of lives are at stake, and we must act now.

Maternal mortality indicators show the greatest gap between rich and poor countries among all other health measures. The maternal mortality ratio in 2005 was highest in developing regions, with 450 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, in stark contrast to 9 in developed regions. Moreover, the small drop in the global maternal mortality ratio reflects mainly the declines that have taken place in countries with relatively low levels of maternal mortality. Countries with the highest initial levels of mortality have made virtually no progress over the past 15 years.

African standstill

The new maternal mortality estimates show that while gains are being made in middle-income countries, the annual decline between 1990 and 2005 in sub-Saharan Africa was only 0.1 per cent. No region achieved the necessary 5.5 per cent annual decline during the same period, although East Asia came closest to the target with a 4.2 per cent annual decline and North Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean experienced relatively faster declines than sub-Saharan Africa.

Slightly more than one half of the maternal deaths (270,000) occurred in the sub-Saharan Africa region, followed by South Asia (188,000). Together, these two regions accounted for 86 per cent of the world's maternal deaths in 2005.

Eleven countries accounted for almost 65 per cent of global maternal deaths in 2005. India had the largest number (117,000), followed by Nigeria (59,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (32,000) and Afghanistan (26,000).

The probability that a 15-year-old girl will die from a complication related to pregnancy and childbirth during her lifetime is highest in Africa: 1 in 26. In the developed regions it is 1 in 7,300. Of all 171 countries and territories for which estimates were made, Niger had the highest estimated lifetime risk of 1 in 7.

"At the midway point in the timeline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," said Ms. Obaid, "it is time to accelerate investments in women's health and rights. It is time for governments to make reproductive health a priority."