New studies on maternal and infant deaths worldwide

From the New York Times:

For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980.

The findings, published in the medical journal The Lancet, challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.


The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

I’m so pleased to hear about this improvement, but there’s still a long way to go. As you might expect, there’s a big disparity between various countries, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo making up over fifty per cent of maternal deaths in 2008. For anyone wanting the data itself, my understanding is that you can access the study here, though you have to register.

Pulling out some stats from Reuters India, the death rate in the United States rose forty-two per cent from 1980 to 2008; Bolivia went from 547 deaths to 180 per 100 000; and Australia had the lowest rates, coming down from nine per 100 000 to five.

Agence France-Presse reports on a similar study just released by WHO’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.

The study called for an additional 16 billion dollars to help expand global access to family planning methods and pre- and post-natal care, as well as to hire millions of health care and community workers.

The investment would save the lives of up to a million women, 4.5 million newborns and 6.5 million children by 2015, the study found.

“This is a multi-layered problem that can be addressed with a combination of many, very simple interventions,” said Flavia Bustreo, director of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.

This study focussed on sixty-eight countries ‘which together account for 92 percent of maternal, newborn and child deaths’. You can read more about this second study here at the WHO website; I’ll point you in particular to a page about successful efforts to reduce the death rates in a number of countries.

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3 comments for “New studies on maternal and infant deaths worldwide

  1. Samantha b.
    April 14, 2010 at 7:15 am

    The WHO summary refers to “kangaroo mother care” as significant factor in reducing infant mortality. My mom’s an ob-gyn so I’ve heard a lot of shop talk over the years but was unfamiliar with term. A little googling tells me that it’s a lot like it sounds, i.e. continuous skin to skin contact between mother and child, and it’s been very recently (in a March 26, 2010 study) shown to be *more effective* than incubators for stabilizing babies under four pounds:
    The study estimates that use of this exceedingly simple technique could save half a million newborn lives a year!!! And kangaroo mother care also reduces risk of infection by half when compared to incubator care.

    On a significantly less optimistic note, I will point out what the NYT rather notably does not: the study also shows that, counter to worldwide trends, there’s been an increase in maternal deaths in the US, Canada, and Denmark (link: ) In the US the increase was a rather shocking 42% from 1990 to 2008. So, yeah, go Susannah Breslin! The backlash was all in our silly little heads, and there’s no legitimate anger to be wrought from the continued (why hello, HCR!) shafting of women’s health care within American borders.

  2. Samantha b.
    April 14, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Oh duh, you mentioned the US stat. That’s what I get for posting pre-coffee. I believe my anger remains well into the category of legitimate gripes, however, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it still stands the NYT failed to report that stat?

  3. hypatia
    April 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    The increase maternal death in the US coincides with the continually increasing caesarean section rate. Unfortunately we need to overhaul the way we treat women’s health from all angles.

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