Maternal Health

Worldwide, more than 50 million women suffer from poor reproductive health and serious pregnancy-related illness and disability. And every year more than 500,000 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Most of the deaths occur in Asia, but the risk of dying is highest in Africa.

Women in high-fertility countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have a 1-in-16 lifetime risk of dying from maternal causes, compared with women in low-fertility countries in Europe, who have a 1-in-2,000 risk, and in North America, who have a 1-in-3,500 risk of dying. High maternal mortality rates in many countries are the result of inadequate reproductive health care for women and inadequately spaced births.

Why do mothers die?

The high rates of maternal mortality throughout much of the developing world are the result of serious neglect of women’s reproductive health, particularly for the poorest women, as well as ineffective interventions.

  • Even where fertility rate are low, the timing and spacing of pregnancies, and the extent to which the births are wanted, warrant attention. Greater access to family planning can help reduce the maternal mortality rate by reducing the number of pregnancies.
  • In addition to contraception, women need access to a broad range of services. The primary means of preventing maternal deaths is to provide rapid access to emergency obstetrical care, including treatment of hemorrhages, infections, hypertension, and obstructed labor. It is also important to ensure that a midwife, or doctor is present at every delivery. In developing countries only about half of deliveries are attended by professional health staff.
  • Skilled attendants must be supported by the right environment. Life-saving interventions – such as antibiotics, surgery, and transportation to medical centers – are unavailable to many women, especially in rural areas. These women may lack the money for health care and transport, or they may simply lack their husbands’ permission to seek care.

Extreme risks of dying from pregnancy or childbirth in some regions

The lifetime risk of maternal death is the risk of an individual woman dying from pregnancy or childbirth in her lifetime. A 1 in 3,000 lifetime risk represents a low risk of dying from pregnancy or childbirth, while a 1 in 100 lifetime risk is a high risk of dying.

Change in the proportion of attended birth in the last 10 years

All regions except for the Middle East and North Africa appear to fall short of achieving the 2015 target. Only 56 percent of women in developing countries give birth with the assistance of a trained midwife or doctor. In Latin America, where the share of births attended by skilled health personnel is high, maternal mortality is relatively low. But in Africa, where skilled attendants and health facilities are not readily available, it is very high.

Fertility rates

Total fertility rate represents the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility rates.

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