The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Working towards reducing maternal mortality

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on September 22, 2010
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A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank states that the number of women dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth has reduced by about one-third between 1990 and 2008. Although it represents tremendous progress, it also highlights how much more has to be done to attain the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on maternal health by 2015, which is to reduce the maternal mortality rate (MMR) by 75%. The current annual rate of decline of MMR stands at about 2.3%, but to achieve the MDG, the annual reduction has to reach 5.5%.

In 2008, about 1,000 pregnant women died daily from four main causes, namely severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders, and unsafe abortion. [1] 99.5% of these deaths occurred in developing countries, with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia accounting for 57% and 30% respectively. Pregnancy and childbirth-related complications remain the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age in these regions and the frequency and pervasiveness of maternal mortality is of concern. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, noted that “no woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care.” In order to significantly reduce the high rates of MMR in the developing world, it is imperative that more is done to improve and increase accessibility of reproductive healthcare. Governments, international organisations and local civil society groups need to work towards ensuring universal access to healthcare to help reduce MMR, and that is ultimately dependent on extending and strengthening health systems. The problems of shortage and inefficient distribution of medical professionals and a lack of good medical infrastructure have to be addressed, while also establishing means of financial protection against the costs of seeking medical attention which could further exacerbate existing poverty.

Furthermore, other than addressing the direct causes of maternal mortality like haemorrhage during childbirth and infections, a more comprehensive healthcare strategy that also takes into consideration causes of indirect maternal deaths such as anaemia, HIV/AIDS and malaria is necessary for more effective implementation of policies that seek to reduce MMR. It is only then that we may move closer towards reaching the UN MDG on maternal health.


[1] There are various case studies which identify these causes and analyse factors of maternal mortality, such as Jagdish C. Bhatia, ‘Levels and Causes of Maternal Mortality in Southern India,’ Studies in Family Planning, Vol. 24, No. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1993), pp. 310-318; I. A. O. Ujah, O. A. Aisien, J. T. Mutihir, D. J. Vanderjagt, R. H. Glew, V. E. Uguru, ‘Factors Contributing to Maternal Mortality in North-Central Nigeria: A Seventeen-Year Review,’ African Journal of Reproductive Health / La Revue Africaine de la Santé Reproductive, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Dec., 2005), pp. 27-40.

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