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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