Maternal deaths have been cut nearly in half since 1990 according to a new report by the United Nations and World Bank. Thanks to increased access to reproductive and family planning health services, mortality rates have shrunk to 216 per 100,000 live births in 2015 from 385 in 1990.
East Asia made especially notable progress, reducing its mortality rate from 90 to 27. Nine countries: Bhutan, Cambodia, Cape Verde, East Timor, Iran, Laos, The Maldives, Mongolia and Rwanda have cut rates by up to 75-90 percent.
While optimistic, experts warn that progress has been inequitable among developing countries and has fallen well short of the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve a worldwide reduction of maternal deaths of 75 percent.
“Many countries will make little progress, or even fall behind, over the next 15 years if we don’t make a big push now,” said Executive Director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.
Nearly all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, 70 percent in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and most cases occur in rural and remote communities where women face inadequate access to medical care.
Common causes of maternal death include infections, severe bleeding, high blood pressure during pregnancy and complications during delivery – risks that health officials urge are entirely preventable.
That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO), within the framework of the newly launched UN Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health, has begun a vigorous campaign to address the disconnect between expectant mothers and well-trained healthcare providers in impoverished communities.
Under the mandate of the Global Strategy, the WHO will partner with local governments to ensure that every mother has access to prenatal and antenatal care, that health care providers are performing at globally set standards, and that healthcare systems are receiving the resources and funding they need to respond to the patient needs.
The organization has designed and implemented training materials and is offering public policy guidance and progress tracking programs.
To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal, however, the U.N. and WHO acknowledge that their strategy will need to couple delivery of care with educational initiatives.
They will engage women in marginalized communities, teaching them practices to maintain their health and the health of their babies – lessons that the organizations believe will challenge traditional and cultural modes of thinking about healthcare.
The World Bank has expressed confidence in these efforts and has reported receiving increasingly reliable birthing data from local governments. “Ending maternal deaths by 2030 is an achievable goal if we redouble our efforts,” said World Bank Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population, Dr. Tim Evans.
– Ron Minard