Why do so many women still die in pregnancy or childbirth?

Online Q&A
12 November 2015

Q: Why do so many women still die in pregnancy or childbirth?

A: In 2015, an estimated 303 000 women will die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, dozens more suffer injury, infection or disease.

The majority of maternal deaths are due to haemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, and eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures), or from health complications worsened in pregnancy. In all these cases, unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible. Maternal deaths are detrimental to social development and wellbeing, as some 1 million children are left motherless each year. These children are more likely to die within 1-2 years of their mothers' death.

Women need not die in childbirth. We must give a young woman the information and support she needs to address her reproductive health needs, help her through a pregnancy, and care for her and her newborn well into childhood. The vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to quality family planning services; skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and after delivery; or post-abortion care and where permissible, safe abortion services. Increased attention for women living in conflict situations, or under humanitarian crisis is needed because a working health system with skilled personnel is key to saving these women's lives.

Although the world did not achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters between 1990 and 2015; great strides were made and many countries saw significant improvements in maternal health. Looking beyond 2015, WHO is committed to support accelerated reductions in maternal mortality by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. For this to happen, high quality reproductive, maternal and newborn health care must be available, accessible and acceptable to all in need. As part of the Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality Strategy and objectives, WHO and partners support countries to achieve this goal, so that women, girls and adolescents can survive and thrive.