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The Death Clock Is Counting Them: But Where Are These Women?

On Monday, Amnesty International launched the “death clock” in Times Square in New York City. Every 90 seconds, it ticks off another woman’s life lost from pregnancy-related causes. Incidentally, many of the world’s leaders are also gathered in New York at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit to review the commitments they made ten years ago to eradicate extreme poverty, which included a commitment to improve maternal health. Let’s hope their motorcades make it to the West Side to pay tribute to the millions of women who have been lost in the interim—and mourn these lives that could have been saved with the right investments.

The clock is counting to 358,000—the United Nations’ newest estimate of the number of women who die every year from pregnancy-related causes, which include unsafe abortions. While that number may shock you, it actually shows that a third fewer women are dying from pregnancy-related causes now than 20 years ago. Good news to be sure, but it also means two-thirds of these women are continuing to meet the same fate.

So now that we’ve counted them, where are these women? Here’s a quick look at some data from the new United Nations report.

Countries Where One Woman or More Die for Every 100 Babies Born Alive

  • Afghanistan (1,400 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Chad (1,200 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Somalia (1,200 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Guinea-Bissau (1,000 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Liberia (990 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Burundi (970 deaths/100,000 live births)
  • Sierra Leone (970 deaths/100,000 live births)

11 Countries that Accounted for 65% of Maternal Deaths Globally in 2008 (when taken together)

  • India (63,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Nigeria (50,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Democratic Republic of Congo (19,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Afghanistan (18,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Ethiopia (14,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Pakistan (14,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • United Republic of Tanzania (14,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Bangladesh (12,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Indonesia (10,000 maternal deaths annually)
  • Kenya (7,900 maternal deaths annually)

Note: Many of these countries are quite populous, which accounts in part for having a larger absolute number of maternal deaths. 

Countries Where the Maternal Mortality Ratio Has Increased More than 10% (1990–2008)

  • Luxembourg (up 170%)
  • Botswana (up 133%)
  • Zimbabwe (up 102%)
  • United States (up 96%)
  • Swaziland (up 62%)
  • Suriname (up 21%)
  • United Kingdom (up 20%)
  • Zambia (up 19%)
  • Somalia (up 12%)

Note: Some of the countries have low maternal mortality ratios despite significant increases in the last 20 years.