11/06/2012: New Report Indicates a Global Reduction in Maternal Deaths

A new report from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank found that maternal deaths have fallen by nearly 50 percent over the past two decades, demonstrating that global investments in maternal and reproductive health programs are having a measurable impact around the world. 

According to the report, the number of maternal deaths around the world has dropped from 543,000 in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010 – a 47% decline. Additionally, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR, or number of women dying for every 100,000 live births) declined from 400 in 1990 to 210 in 2010. This new data comes at a critical time, with just three years remaining before the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDG 5 aims to reduce maternal deaths by 75 percent globally.

The report examined 180 countries from 1990 through 2010 and assessed progress toward curbing maternal mortality and achieving MDG 5. During this time, 100 countries have achieved a more than 40% decrease in maternal deaths.  However, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia continue to have the highest burden of maternal deaths, with 85% of all deaths occurring in these regions. A woman’s lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 39 in sub-Saharan Africa and 1 in 160 in Southern Asia, compared to a 1 in 3,800 risk in developed countries. The two highest-burden countries in these regions – India and Nigeria – together account for more than one-third of maternal deaths globally. Thirty-six of the 40 highest-burden countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report found that 10 countries have already reached the MDG 5 target, including Belarus, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Iran, Lithuania, Maldives, Nepal, Romania and Viet Nam. Other countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Guatemala, have made little or no progress. Notably, the MMR in several high-income countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Switzerland, has actually increased since 1990.

Increasing access to voluntary family planning services among the 215 million women who want, but do not have access to, modern contraceptives could help further reduce maternal mortality worldwide. East Asia, which has made the greatest progress in preventing maternal deaths, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84 percent. Conversely, sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest rate of maternal death, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of only 22 percent. It is estimated that meeting the global unmet need for family planning and maternal and newborn health services could reduce the number of maternal deaths by 70 percent.