Woman and child

  • Also known as "maternal death" or "obstetric death," maternal mortality refers to any death of a woman occurring during or, at most, 42 days after her pregnancy.

  • Over 536,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year. That translates to about one death each minute.

  • For every woman who dies, another 30 suffer long-lasting illness or injury.

  • 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing nations, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

  • More than 1 million children are left motherless every year due to maternal deaths.

  • Children are 3 to 10 times more likely to die within two years of a maternal death.

  • Globally, the maternal mortality ratio (number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) has declined at an average of less than 1% per year. 

  • Millennium Development Goal 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality by 75% between 1990 and 2015, but the current declining rate is less than 1/5th the rate necessary to achieve that target.

  • Cambodia - mother and childIn Ireland, a woman's lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 48,000. In Niger, it is 1 in 7.

  • Girls under 15 are five times more likely to do during childbirth than are women in their 20s.

  • With regard to maternal death rates, there are huge discrepancies between different socio-economic groups. Poorer, rural, less educated communities have far higher death rates than do wealthier, urban, educated communities. This rich-poor discrepancy is the largest discrepancy amongst all the public health indicators tracked by the World Health Organization.

  • It is estimated that almost three-quarters of maternal deaths can be eliminated by increasing women's access to comprehensive reproductive health services, within the larger context of promoting human rights and reducing poverty.
  • Only 57% of women in developing countries give birth with a skilled medical professional present. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 40% of women give birth with a trained professional present.

  • About 80% of maternal deaths are caused by one of the following causes: severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), and obstructed labor.

  • Almost 14 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every year, accounting for nearly 10% of all childbirths.

  • About 18 million unsafe abortions are carried out in developing countries every year, resulting in almost 70,000 maternal deaths.

  • By 2015, another 330,000 midwives are needed to achieve universal reproductive health coverage for expecting mothers.

    Ethiopian woman

  • Most UN treaty monitoring bodies have addressed specific interventions to prevent maternal death, including skilled attendance at birth and access to emergency obstetric care.

  • In June 2009, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution on maternal mortality.
  • There is not a single human rights mechanism with a focus on the immense problem of maternal deaths. 

Sources for these statistics: World Health Organization, UNFPA, Women Deliver, White Ribbon Alliance, Center for Reproductive Rights, University of Essex.

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Photos: 1st photo - CARE Peru. 2nd photo - 2003 Jim Hall/CARE. 3rd photo - © 2006 Kate Holt/CARE.