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Lancet Reports Steady Decline in Maternal Deaths Throughout the World: Key Advances in Saving Lives

Findings from secondary data sources of maternal mortality of 181 countries strongly suggest that the number of women dying from pregnancy or childbirth has declined sharply since 1980. The New York Times covered the story on April 13, citing research published in the Lancet. (Free registration is required to view the Lancet article.)

Maternal mortality has always been one of the most difficult indications of progress to measure, as noted in the Lancet article.  We are thrilled that new combined methodologies have made it possible to much more accurately track trends in maternal deaths—and that the news is good!  The total number of maternal deaths in 2008 was estimated at 342,900, down from 526,300 in 1980.  Although, as the Lancet points out, there are still only 23 countries that are truly on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of a 75% reduction in maternal mortality rates by 2015—many countries are now achieving accelerated progress.

Key advances in saving lives have included better care for obstetric complications, which are the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries (where more than half of births take place without the assistance of a skilled health worker.) A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa still has a one in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth—a rate 50 times higher than in most developed countries. IntraHealth’s innovative, effective strategies to save women’s and children’s lives have, we believe, contributed to the progress that has been made.  Why are fewer women dying?  Widespread access to and use of high-quality family planning has reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies and allowed couples to time and space their births.  In addition, strengthening the performance of health workers at labor and delivery, training and supporting health workers to perform active management of the third stage of labor to prevent postpartum hemorrhage (the leading cause of maternal death), preventing and surgically repairing obstetric fistula, and educating communities to support women and infants through healthy pregnancies, safe births, and postpartum periods all lead to healthier pregnancies and deliveries.  We salute our partner Ministries of Health and others working so diligently to make the dream of improved maternal health into a reality.