70% of global maternal deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa – UN

A NEW report by the Nations (UN) says 70 per cent of global maternal deaths occur in the Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report also notes that a woman dies every two minutes globally during pregnancy or childbirth.

The report “Trends in maternal mortality” tracked maternal deaths nationally, regionally and globally from 2000 to 2020.

According to the report, an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths occurred worldwide in 2020.

The report reveals alarming setbacks for women’s health in recent years, as maternal deaths either increased or stagnated in nearly all regions of the world.

It urges leaders to significantly accelerate progress to meet global targets for reducing maternal deaths or risk the lives of over one million more women by 2030.

The World Health Organization (WHO) produced the report on behalf of the United Nations Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group comprising WHO, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank Group and the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

It used national data to estimate levels and trends of maternal mortality from 2000-2020.

The UN says that data in the new publication supersede all previous estimates published by WHO and the United Nations Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group. 

From the report, the new global maternal deaths data show a slight decrease from 309,000 in 2016 when the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect. 

The ICIR reports that maternal death occurs from complications from pregnancy during childbirth or within six weeks of the end of a pregnancy.

While the report presents some significant progress in reducing maternal deaths between 2000 and 2015, gains largely stalled or, in some cases, reversed.

In two of the eight UN regions – Europe and Northern America, and Latin America and the Caribbean – the maternal mortality rate increased from 2016 to 2020 by 17 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively. 

“Elsewhere, the rate stagnated. The report notes, however, that progress is possible. For example, two regions – Australia and New Zealand and Central and Southern Asia – experienced significant declines (by 35 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively) in their maternal mortality rates during the same period, as did 31 countries across the world,” a statement by the UN says on Thursday, February 23.

The UN explains that maternal deaths remain largely in the world’s poorest parts and countries affected by conflict.

“In 2020, about 70 per cent of all maternal deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa. In nine countries facing severe humanitarian crises, maternal mortality rates were more than double the world average (551 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 223 globally).”

The report lists severe bleeding, high blood pressure, pregnancy-related infections, complications from unsafe abortion, and underlying conditions that could be aggravated by pregnancy (such as HIV/AIDS and malaria) as the leading causes of maternal deaths. 

The UN says the conditions are preventable and treatable with access to high-quality and respectful healthcare.

The report shows that a third of women do not have four of the recommended eight antenatal checks or receive essential postnatal care, while some 270 million women lack access to modern family planning methods. 

“Exercising control over their reproductive health – particularly decisions about if and when to have children – is critical to ensure that women can plan and space childbearing and protect their health.

“Inequities related to income, education, race or ethnicity further increase risks for marginalized pregnant women, who have the least access to essential maternity care but are most likely to experience underlying health problems in pregnancy,” the UN notes.

Reactions from UN agencies

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Ghebreyesus says while pregnancy should be a time of immense hope and a positive experience for all women, “it is tragically still a shockingly dangerous experience for millions around the world who lack access to high-quality, respectful health care.

“These new statistics reveal the urgent need to ensure every woman and girl has access to critical health services before, during and after childbirth, and that they can fully exercise their reproductive rights.”

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell notes that the tragedy of maternal deaths often marred the miracle of childbirth for millions of families.



    She argues that no mother should fear for her life while bringing a baby into the world, especially when the knowledge and tools to treat common complications exist. 

    On her part, the Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank and Director of the Global Financing Facility, Juan Uribe, opines that the report reminds the world of the ‘urgent’ need to double down on its commitment to women and adolescent health.

    Similarly, UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, a doctor, says, “It is unacceptable that so many women continue to die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. Over 280,000 fatalities in a single year is unconscionable,” said . “We can and must do better by urgently investing in family planning and filling the global shortage of 900,000 midwives so that every woman can get the lifesaving care she needs. We have the tools, knowledge and resources to end preventable maternal deaths; what we need now is the political will.”

    “Reducing maternal mortality remains one of the most pressing global health challenges,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

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