News

45 Percent Fewer Women Die Giving Life—More Would Survive If They Counted

Women Deliver welcomes two new studies that highlight reductions in maternal mortality and the causes behind those deaths, but calls for further improvements in overall data collection for girls and women

6 May 2014 – The number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has declined by 45 percent, from 523,000 in 1990 to an estimated 289,000 in 2013, according to a new study, Trends in Maternal Mortality Estimates 1990-2013, released today by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), The World Bank and the United Nations Population Division.

The progress is noteworthy, but the decline is less than what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015.

“Women Deliver welcomes this new report, and the evidence that we are making progress on reducing maternal mortality,” said Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver. “But we cannot stop now – this progress can only be sustained with greater political will and investment from all sectors. We need to spread the word far and wide than when we invest in girls and women - in their rights and health - everybody wins.”

Trends in maternal mortality estimates 1990 to 2013 includes new data which were not captured in the last set of global estimates in 2012, and improved methods of estimating births and all female deaths. While these estimates show overall reductions in maternal mortality, strong improvements in measuring data on maternal health are still needed to better track how many women face death and disability from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Currently, it is estimated that only one-third of all maternal deaths are properly recorded, and fewer than 100 countries record the cause of death using WHO’s International Classification of Disease.

The World Health Organization released an additional study in The Lancet Global Health that investigated the major causes behind the worldwide maternal mortality statistics. Global causes of maternal death: a WHO systematic analysis, finds that more than a quarter (28%) of maternal deaths are caused by pre-existing conditions such as HIV, diabetes, malaria, and obesity.

The WHO study draws from data on more than 60,000 maternal deaths in 115 countries. After pre-existing causes, remaining causes of maternal death include severe bleeding (27%), high blood pressure (ecclampsia and precclamsia) (14%), infections (11%), obstructed labor and other direct causes (9%), unsafe abortion (8%), and blood clots (embolism) (3%). This data underscores the need for continued investment in strong health systems, access to contraceptive services, and quality care before, during, and after pregnancy.

While Women Deliver applauds the progress made for girls and women, we also acknowledge that our work is far from over. According to the reports, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most risky part of the world for maternal deaths. In Somalia, women face a 1 in 18 lifetime risk of maternal death, and in Chad, they face a 1 in 15 lifetime risk.

“The decline in maternal deaths is great, but to sustain and accelerate it we must continue to invest in the overall health and well-being of girls and women,” said Jill Sheffield, President and Founder of Women Deliver. “We must strive for a world where we are not just estimating maternal deaths. Rather, we are counting them because every woman counts.”

Several organizations are already heeding the call for improved data collection around girls’ and women’s issues, including the Clinton Global Initiative and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through their campaign, No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, launched in November 2013, the two organizations are teaming up to conduct a global review of the status of women and girls everywhere over the last 20 years. This robust tracking of progress, and remaining gaps, is essential to create real and lasting change. 

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