WHO Releases New Maternal Health and Mortality Data

Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 – 2013Maternal health  is one of the world’s biggest global health priorities especially as the deadline for the Millineum Development Goals near. As a global priority MDG 5 (improve maternal health) cannot be effectively measured without full and complete data resources. According to the new report, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 – 2013, only 40% of countries accurately record the cause of death for expecting mothers. Without this vital data measuring maternal mortality will continue to be an ongoing challenge with missing pieces to the overall maternal health puzzle.

In order to reach MDG 5, vital records must be accurately attained and recorded globally. It was the recommendation of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health that countries make marked improvements in vital events and statistics to better measure maternal mortality rates and ratios, and yet that progress continues to be slow-going according to the report.

With the current, available data released by the World Health Organization we know that most maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and that the two countries with the highest maternal mortality deaths are India and Nigeria, but Sierra Leone has the highest ratio of maternal deaths at 1100 per every 100,00 people.

The Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG) has worked to determine comparable MMR rates along with a technical advisory group. Due to the progress made by the MMEIG in conjunction with the advisory group new MMR estimates have been established and released in this latest data report.

In 2013 there were 210 maternal deaths worldwide per every 100,000 people. In 1990, that number was significantly higher at 380 showing a steep decline of 45%. Over the course of nearly 25 years, the maternal mortality rate has decreased significantly as the numbers show, but there is yet more work to do particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the need to keep more mothers alive is greatest. Women die in childbirth for causes that are completely preventable such as excess bleeding and infection.

Data from 183 countries were included in the new report. According to Trends in Maternal Mortality national-level data from civil registration, surveys, surveillance systems, censuses, and sample registration systems among others were used to determine the new data rates. Despite the still-high numbers all WHO regions experienced a reduction in maternal deaths since 1990. In sub-Saharan Africa, however, women have a 1 in 38 chance of dying in childbirth as opposed to women in developed countries who have a 1 in 3700 chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes. The worldwide MMR (number of maternal deaths) is 210. In 2013, 289,000 women died in childbirth. In 1990, that number was 523,000.

Concerted Improvements

There is no doubt clear improvements in maternal health have been realized over the course of two decades. However, the global health community can save more women’s lives. 800 women die every day from birth complications that are largely preventable. The World Health Organization recommends that women have access to more antenatal care, delivery with trained midwives and frontline health workers, blood supplies and medications and education about having a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

UN Photo/David Ohana


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