In the United States, 24 in 100,000 women die in childbirth. But in developing countries, the number skyrockets: 1200 in 100,000 women in both Chad and Somalia; 1400 in 100,000 women in Afghanistan. Most of these deaths are preventable. Most of these mothers can be saved.
Adopted in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals set targets for significant reductions in poverty, disease and hunger worldwide by 2015. One of those goals was to reduce maternal mortality by 75%.
At the time, 529,000 women died each year from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. The latest figures, for 2008, were announced in advance of the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals held in September at the United Nations, showed a nearly 32% drop, to 358,000 maternal deaths in pregnancy and childbirth. However, that’s still far short of reaching that 75% reduction goal.
One of the bright spots: Stories of Mothers Saved shares the experiences of women like Villayat Bibi of Afghanistan, who became a refugee after her husband disappeared in the midst of a Taliban insurgency late in her fourth pregnancy. She is alive today because she was fortunate enough to receive medical attention when she developed late-term complications. “If I had died,” she says, “my children would have become domestic servants and beggars.”
The nonprofit Women Deliver reports that Rwanda is also making great strides toward reducing maternal mortality. Its strategy involves a combination of training health workers in rural areas and investing in mobile health (mHealth) technology. The country’s goal is to train 60,000 community health workers and traditional birth attendants. In a pilot program launched last year, 432 of those workers were given Rapid SMS-enabled mobile phones they can use to capture prenatal health, delivery and birth data and report emergencies to the nearest clinic or hospital.
Aid organizations need several billions of dollars a year to accelerate these gains but regard the expense as a low cost investment in helping the poorest countries advance economically and reduce their dependence on aid. “If you break it down across the billion poor, we’re talking about a couple of dollars per person per year,” says Dr. Yves Bergevin, coordinator of the United Nations Population Fund’s maternal health program. “And the investments in reproductive health, including family planning, save money in the end.”
CONNECT THE DOTS
The first step in moving forward is to increase the developing world’s supply of trained midwives. “We need a global movement on midwifery,” Dr. Bergevin says. See the Global Call to Action for more information about how this can help save the lives of mothers and newborns. The United Nations Population Fund created this Safe Motherhood Resource Kit as well as a variety of Safe Motherhood Videos. The World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health created this Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health. You can also listen online to Dr. Bergevin’s BBC interview about maternal health. In addition, GE provides this Developing Health Globally resource in support of the Millennium Development Goals.