JOHANNESBURG - Women in the world's least developed countries are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in developed countries, according to UNICEF's latest State of the World's Children report, released today.
The health and survival of mothers and their newborns are linked, and many of the same interventions, like prenatal care, that save new mothers' lives also benefit their infants. This is why the four strategies to save women’s lives are so important: family planning and other reproductive health services; skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth; emergency care when life-threatening complications develop; and immediate postnatal care for mothers and newborns. The 2009 edition of UNICEF's publication, The State of the World's Children, highlights the link between maternal and neonatal survival, and provides suggestions to close the gap between rich and poor countries.
"Every year, more than half a million women die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications, including about 70,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 19," said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. "Since 1990, complications related to pregnancy and childbirth have killed an estimated 10 million women."
While many developing countries have made excellent progress towards improving their child survival rate in recent years, there has been less headway in reducing maternal mortality and MDG 5 (Improve Maternal Health) has made the least progress of all the Millennium Development Goals. And while the rate of survival for children under five years of age is improving globally, the risks faced by infants in the first 28 days remain unacceptably high in many countries.
To lower maternal and infant mortality, the report recommends essential services be provided through health systems that integrate a continuum of home, community, outreach, and facility-based care. This continuum of care concept, which includes the time from pregnancy to delivery, the immediate postnatal period, and childhood, transcends the traditional emphasis on single, disease-specific interventions, calling instead for a model of primary health care that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn, and child health. "A functioning health system is a system that can deliver to women when women are ready to deliver," said Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director. "If the health system can respond to the medical requirements for safe delivery in terms of skilled health personnel and the necessary medical intervention for emergency obstetric care, then it can respond to other emergencies."
The report also finds that health services are most effective in an environment supportive of women's empowerment, protection, and education.
"Saving the lives of mothers and their newborns requires more than just medical intervention," said Veneman. "Educating girls is pivotal to improving maternal and neonatal health and also benefits families and societies."
For more information:
Read the full report.
Read press release from UNFPA.
Read the UN agencies' joint statement on maternal health.
Read an article in the Guardian.