Maternal Deaths Down Worldwide

Maternal deaths fell dramatically since 1990, WHO reports


The World Health Organization (WHO) released some promising statistics on maternal mortality this week.

According to a new report from the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank Group (WBG), maternal mortality has fallen globally by an estimated 44 percent since 1990. Maternal mortality is the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth or within 6 weeks of giving birth.

This report looked at the progress made on maternal mortality as defined by the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were established following the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.

The eight MDGs — which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to establishing universal education — form an agreement by the world’s countries and leading institutions to achieve certain goals by 2015. Goal #5 called for a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality ratio (MMR) between 1990 and 2015.

According to the report, maternal deaths around the world have dropped from an estimated 532,000 in 1990 to 303,000 this year — equating to a 44 percent drop in global MMR.

Despite this dramatic improvement, only nine countries successfully achieved the target of reducing MMR by 75 percent by 2015. Those countries were Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, Mongolia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste.

"The MDGs triggered unprecedented efforts to reduce maternal mortality," said Flavia Bustreo, MD, assistant director-general of family, women’s and children’s health at the WHO, in a press release. "Over the past 25 years, a woman’s risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes has nearly halved. That’s real progress, although it is not enough. We know that we can virtually end these deaths by 2030 and this is what we are committing to work towards."

By the end of 2015, about 99 percent of the world’s maternal deaths will have occurred in developing regions — with Sub-Saharan Africa alone accounting for 66 percent of these deaths, according to the report. But that still represents a major improvement. Sub-Saharan Africa saw nearly a 45 percent decrease in MMR between 1990 and 2015.

The greatest improvement of any region occurred in Eastern Asia, where the maternal mortality rate fell 72 percent.

This report was published online Nov. 12 in the journal The Lancet.

Information on funding sources and conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.