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Drop in Global Maternal Death Rates

May 24, 2010

This post is part of a series leading up to the Women Deliver conference (, a global meeting on maternal and reproductive health and the advancement of women and girls. Women Deliver 2010 will push for an additional $12 billion in increased investment from G8 for programs to improve maternal health.

midwife and clientLast month, a new study in The Lancet found that the global maternal death rate had dropped 35 percent in the past 30 years. The overall number of deaths has declined, from 536,300 in 1980 to 342,900 in 2008, but the shift in statistics is still troubling. Maternal deaths are highly concentrated, almost 80 percent, in 21 countries, and 6 countries account for more than half of all maternal deaths (India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the DRC). The global MMR (maternal mortality ratio, or number of women dying for every 100,000 live births) has also dropped from 422 in 1980 to 251 in 2008, however maternal death rates are actually up in certain countries, including the United States. Even within the United States, the MMR differs drastically among races; the maternal death rate for black women is eight times higher than that of white women in New York City, for example.

Any reduction in maternal deaths is considered progress, however most countries remain far behind the Millenium Development Goal 5– a 75 percent reduction in maternal deaths by 2015. Advocates welcome the overall decline, and although hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths continue each year, the small glimmer of hope is motivation for those who have been working to reduce these numbers for years.

“The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress,” -Lancet Journal Editor Dr. Richard Horton

Advocates are also worried by the findings of this report, however. Why? It may make the cause seem less urgent. Although the reduction of maternal deaths is an Millennium Development Goal and has been made a priority at the world’s G8/G20 Summits in Canada, talk alone will not solve the problem. Women with less risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth are bringing attention to this cause in many ways. According to Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers Report, the biggest difference between life and death for a mother is a knowledgeable female health worker present at the birth. (Not all women are allowed to be seen by a male other than their husbands; if there is only a male doctor, their birth can go unattended.) The SOTWM Report found that the best and worst countries in which to be a mother were Norway and Afghanistan respectively.

  1. June 5, 2010 9:32 am

    I was very glad to see this article on MMR , (deaths of mothers after giving birth), by Colleen Hodgetts, who did not fail to look at the implications of the many needless maternal deaths, the high MMR in the USA, as well as around the world. As an older American feminist,I constantly shake my head and wonder about the relatively small progress we have made in these issues, even in our own American cities. I continue to look for ways women can learn more, so that we can mobilize in small groups to make more changes locally, for women who live around us, but who do not have the advantages of time and money to fight for the changes that women need. I see your blog as a way to help women understand issues, so that they can mobilize successfully. I appreciate this blog as a continuing source of knowledge that is often not published. As Americans, we also need to continue to look for ways that we can make global changes, but we must be prepared to act locally.

    As Americans, we too often see feminist issues as problems in other countries, particularly in those countries where women are not allowed to be vocal, according to political or religious domination by males. I do believe we need to look in our own backyards, as well as looking globally.We, in the USA, are part of the gender issues across borders. I am thinking of physical borders between counties, as well as the borders between income levels, classes and races, which are less visible, but terribly hard to cross.

    I live in Baltimore, MD, the home of Johns Hopkins Hospital, rated the #1 hospital in the USA year after year, and yet the deaths of mothers after giving birth, particularly young poor, black mothers, is outrageously high. Despite this hospital and one of the strongest Public Health Graduate School programs in the country, we have made little progress in helping poor women with maternal care in Baltimore. The rate of young teenage mothers giving birth is one of the highest in the country, and that leads to slower deaths for many young mothers(and children) who simply cannot make a living and survive, with health, in our country, The amount of services is so low in a city where medical care is so advanced and seen through out the world as exemplary. The differentiation of medical care between the poor and the middle/upper classes is staggering, and becoming worse in the present economic situation.

    I hope you will continue to provide women with articles like this, which open minds and further feminist action plans.
    Barbara Cavanagh


  1. Women Deliver Series: Examining Maternal and Reproductive Health and the Empowerment of Women and Girls « Gender Across Borders
  2. Women Deliver: Question to Ponder « Gender Across Borders
  3. Women Deliver Index « Gender Across Borders

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