Throughout history, more women have died in childbirth than men have died in battle.
Furthermore, for every woman who dies due to a pregnancy or childbirth complication, approximately 20 others suffer injuries, infection and disabilities. And the ripples of poor maternal health continue outwards from each individual woman, adversely affecting the infants and children, wider family and community.
In 2000, the UN launched a series of international development targets, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with the fifth goal specifying targets focussed on maternal health: 1) to reduce by three quarters the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth by 2015; 2) to ensure universal access to reproductive and sexual health services by 2015.
In 1990 the number of maternal deaths was 543,000 per year; this has been reduced to 287,000 in 2010. Yet despite the progress made in improving maternal health since 2000, a woman living in Chad still has a 1 in 15 chance of dying from a maternal cause during her lifetime, compared with 1 in 3,800 for a woman in a developed country . In Afghanistan, only 34% of births have a skilled attendant, and in Haiti there is huge inequity between the coverage of health services in urban and rural households.
While the underlying causes for maternal deaths are wide-ranging and complex, the direct causes often come from a lack of family planning services, unsafe abortions, poor pregnancy care and the lack of a skilled birth attendant at delivery. Significant improvements can be made with investment in healthcare at community and regional level.
Mahmoud Fathalla, Harvard Gazette, reported 7 March 2013
Countdown to 2015: Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival, The 2012 Report, WHO and UNICEF 2012