News / Health

WHO Study Reports Fewer Childbirth Deaths

World Health Organization study on maternal deaths
World Health Organization study on maternal deaths
Lisa Schlein
A new World Health Organization study finds maternal deaths due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth have been cut nearly in half over the past 24 years.  But WHO says most countries will not meet the 2015 Millennium Development goal of reducing maternal deaths by two-thirds. 

New U.N. data show 45 percent more mothers are surviving childbirth today than in 1990.  Last year,  289,000 women died from complications compared to 523,000 in 1990 the study found.

(Click here to see WHO's interactive map on maternal deaths)

A second related World Health Organization Study noted the causes of maternal deaths have changed.  In 1990, women were dying of bleeding, infections and high blood pressure in pregnancy.  The study found that now, more than one in four maternal deaths are due to pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, HIV, malaria and obesity.

Marleen Temmerman, WHO's Director of Reproductive Health and Research co-authored the study.  She said the incidence of non-communicable diseases is increasing throughout the world, and that conditions such as obesity and diabetes get worse during pregnancy and can be life threatening.

Temmerman said Sub-Saharan Africa is still the riskiest region for dying of complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

“If you look at what is the lifetime risk for a woman, for a girl to die during pregnancy and childbirth, then it is one in 40 in Sub-Saharan Africa as compared to one in 3,500 approximately, in, for example Europe or the Western world,” she said.

The World Health Organization says although steady progress is being made in reducing maternal deaths, there has been too little progress in preventing adolescent pregnancies, abortions, maternal deaths, sexually-transmitted infections and HIV in the last 20 years.

The lack of availability to quality comprehensive sexual education and services for young people, especially in poor countries is partially to blame, according to the study.  It noted that more than 15 million girls aged 15 - 19 give birth every year and that many of these pregnancies result from non-consensual sex.

According to the report, 10 countries account for about 60 percent of global maternal deaths.  They include India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Kenya, China, and Uganda.

The study said the highest lifetime risk of maternal death is in Somalia and Chad. Eleven countries are on track to achieve the MDG target of cutting maternal deaths by 75 percent.

WHO Coordinator of Adolescents and At-risk Populations Team, Lale Say, told VOA there is no magic formula in achieving these results. 

“For example, Rwanda - one of the biggest push for Rwanda to handle the maternal deaths has been to the scaling up family planning services nationwide and a big improvement in the use of contraception in family planning services," Say explained. 

Dr. Say said Cambodia cut its maternal death rate by increasing childbirth deliveries in health facilities and upgrading the skills of health workers.  Fewer mothers are dying in Nepal since it legalized abortions and has been encouraging women to give birth in health facilities, Say said.

According to WHO interventions such as access to family planning facilities and contraception, midwifery services and the availability of health workers and equipment and medicines can save the lives of women and their newborn babies.

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