PMNCH Fact Sheet: Maternal mortality

Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5

Updated September 2011

  • Every day, approximately 1000 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth or about 350,000 deaths each year.
  • In 2008, 358,000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in rural areas and among poorer and less educated communities.
  • Aolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2008, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by one third.
Main causes of death

MDG 5: To improve maternal health and reduce, by two-thirds, maternal mortality between 1990 and 2015

The challenge – Making Pregnancy Safer

Not only are 350,000 maternal deaths each year unnecessary, statistics show that maternal disabilities and illnesses are appalling in countries with high mortality: For every woman who dies, another 30 women suffer long-lasting injury or illness that can result in lifelong pain, disability and socio-economic exclusion.

Key facts: A delivery like no other...

  • Less than 60% of all women in developing countries and only 34% in the least developed countries have access to a skilled professional when giving birth, and even fewer are delivering in a health facility providing skilled care.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth and their consequences are still the leading causes of death, disease and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • The risk of a woman dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complication during her lifetime is about 1 in 7 in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone compared with about 1 in 29,800 in Sweden.
Maternal mortality levels and trends

Causes of maternal death

The major direct causes of maternal death in developing countries are severe bleeding, infection, hypertension, obstructed labour and unsafe abortion. The lion’s share of maternal deaths (80%) is due to direct causes: deaths are consequences of pregnancy-related complications, or are caused by interventions, omissions, incorrect treatment or events that result from these complications.

Why are women still dying from pregnancy related causes?

  • Countries with weak and fragile health systems have not been able to provide women with a continuum of skilled care that is crucial to reduce maternal deaths.
  • Poverty, humanitarian crises and, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the direct and indirect effects of HIV/AIDS have further slowed, stagnated or reversed progress.

What can be done?

  • The provision of and access to a continuum of care from home to health facilities: Most maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to and could use professional care. Quality care includes services before and during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Practical and cost-effective services include childbirth at health facilities that have the necessary equipment, medicines and skilled staff to provide round-the-clock services. Quality control and transport to obstetric emergency care in case of complications is also needed. This implies strengthening health systems.
  • Political commitment at the highest level is needed to make the health, well-being and protection of all women and children a government priority. Adequate resources -- both human and financial- - are needed to scale up better maternal health. Improved data-gathering, reporting availability and use of relevant information for programmes and policy are essential for making effective decisions and actions.
  • The empowerment of women, families and communities should enhance necessary self care, as well as increase access to and utilization of quality skilled care. Support for transport to appropriate health facilities, especially in case of obstetric emergency, is crucial to ensure access to care.

Countdown to 2015 – Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival

The Countdown to 2015 Initiative collects and analyses data from 68 countries that account for at least 95 % of maternal and child deaths, working to create an account of progress towards the achievement of MDGs 4 and 5. The Countdown Initiative has released Reports in 2005, 2008 and 2010 and produces country profiles that present coverage data for a range of key health services including:

  • Contraceptive use
  • Antenatal care
  • Skilled attendance at delivery
  • Postnatal care
  • Child health
  • Financial investments in MNCH
  • Equity of access, health systems and policy
Coverage of essential interventions