A new report on maternal mortality, released by UNICEF has highlighted the risks faced during pregnancy and childbirth by women in developing countries.
The report “Progress for Children: A Report Card on Maternal Mortality” states that, according to the latest data, more than 99 per cent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, with some 84 per cent concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
“The tragic fact is that every year more than half a million women lose their lives as a result of complications due to pregnancy or childbirth,” said Peter Salama, UNICEF’s Chief of Health.
“The causes of maternal mortality are clear – as are the means to combat them. Yet women continue to die unnecessarily.”
Hemorrhage is the most common cause of death, particularly in Africa and Asia. A woman’s overall health – including her nutritional level and HIV status – also influences the chances of a positive outcome to her pregnancy and childbirth. Other influences include societal factors, such as poverty, inequity and general attitudes towards women and their health. Maternal mortality rates are often impacted by cultural or traditional practices that often prevent women from seeking delivery or post-partum care.
In the developing world, the risk of death from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth over the course of a woman’s lifetime is one in 76, compared with one in 8,000 in the industrialized world. The riskiest place to give birth is Niger, where that risk is estimated to be one in seven.
Most maternal deaths are avoidable. A key to avoiding them is better health care – particularly during pregnancy, delivery and in the post-partum period. Interventions that improve maternal health include: antenatal care, provider-initiated HIV testing and counseling, skilled attendance at birth, emergency obstetric care, post-partum care and family planning in keeping with national policies. When offered across a continuum of care that integrates home, community, outreach and facility-based services, these interventions can have multiple benefits for mothers, children and the communities in which they live.
There are some promising areas of improvement in maternal health interventions in recent years. Coverage of antenatal care throughout the developing world has increased by 15% in the past decade, with 75% of expectant mothers now receiving some antenatal care.