Stepping up Efforts to Save Mothers' Lives

Every minute, another woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Every minute, the loss of a mother shatters a family and threatens the well-being of surviving children. For every woman who dies, 20 or more experience serious complications. These range from chronic infections to disabling injuries such as obstetric fistula. Maternal death and disability rates mirror the huge discrepancies that exist between the haves and the have-nots both within and between countries

Of the more than 500,000 women who die during pregnancy or childbirth, 90 per cent occur in Africa and Asia. The majority of women are dying from severe bleeding, infections, eclampsia, obstructed labour and the consequences of unsafe abortions--all preventable causes for which we have highly effective interventions.

Working for the survival of mothers is a human rights imperative. It also has enormous socio-economic ramifications – and is a crucial international development priority. Both the International Conference o­n Population and Development and Millennium Development Goals call for a 75 per cent reduction in maternal mortality between 1990 and 2015.  This three-pronged strategy is key to the accomplishment of the goal:

*All women have access to contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies

*All pregnant women have access to skilled care at the time of birth

*All those with complications have timely access to quality emergency obstetric care

In countries such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Jamaica, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tunisia, significant declines in maternal mortality have occurred as more women have gained access to family planning and skilled birth attendance with backup emergency obstetric care. Many of these countries have halved their maternal deaths in the space of a decade. Cadres of professionally trained midwives have been critical to these successes. Severe shortages of trained health providers with midwifery skills are holding back progress in many countries.

UNFPA supports safe motherhood initiatives in 89 countries. UNFPA-supported progammes emphasize capacity development in maternal care, especially the strengthening of needed human resources. UNFPA seeks to make motherhood as safe as possible during crisis situations that compound women's vulnerability. UNFPA's work to prevent fistula is also making pregnancy safer by calling attention to health systems that are failing to meet the needs of women during the critical time of childbirth.

In 2008, the Fund, along with a number of partners, established a Thematic Fund for Maternal Health to increase the capacity of health systems to provide a broad range of quality maternal health services, reduce health inequities, and empower women to exercise their right to maternal health. Other key initiatives to accelerate progress in making motherhood safer include the Global Programme o­n Reproductive Health Commodity Security and the Campaign to End Fistula.