The World Health Organization is supporting countries to deliver integrated, evidence-based and cost-effective care for mothers and babies during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. Investing in health systems—especially in training midwives and in making emergency obstetric care available round-the-clock—is key to reducing maternal mortality. Read ten facts on maternal health that reveal how necessary their support is.

1. Nearly 830 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

About 303 000 women will die worldwide in 2015 due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. In developing countries, conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth constitute the second leading causes (after HIV/AIDS) of death among women of reproductive age.

2. Women die in pregnancy and childbirth for 5 main reasons.

These are severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), and medical complications like cardiac disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS complicating or complicated by pregnancy.

3. More than 135 million women give birth per year.

About 20 million of them are estimated to experience pregnancy-related illness after childbirth. The list of morbidities is long and diverse, and includes fever, anaemia, fistula, incontinence, infertility and depression. Women who suffer from fistula are often stigmatized and ostracized by their husbands, families and communities.

4. About 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth each year.

They account for more than 10% of all births. In the developing world, about 90% of the births to adolescents occur in marriage. In low- and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls 15-19.

5. Maternal health mirrors the gap between the rich and the poor.

Less than 1% of maternal deaths occur in high-income countries. The maternal mortality ratio in developing countries is 239 per 100 000 births versus 12 per 100 000 in developed countries. Also, maternal mortality is higher in rural areas and among poorer and less educated communities. Approximately 830 women die every day the countries represented by these deaths is widely disproportionate. Roughly 550 women live in sub-Saharan Africa and 180 live in Southern Asia compared to 8 in high-income countries.

6. Most maternal deaths can be prevented.

Most of these deaths can be prevented through skilled care at childbirth and access to emergency obstetric care. In sub-Saharan Africa, where maternal mortality ratios are the highest, less than 50% of women are attended by a trained midwife, nurse or doctor during childbirth. Women and girls living in fragile states or those in humanitarian crises face some of the highest risks because health systems are often broken in these situations, exposing the most vulnerable.

7. Many women don’t see a skilled health professional enough during pregnancy.

Although a large proportion of women see skilled health personnel at least once during their pregnancy, only about half receive the recommended minimum of at least 4 visits during the pregnancy. Women who do not receive the necessary check-ups miss the opportunity to detect problems and receive appropriate care and treatment. This also includes immunization and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

 8. About 22 million abortions continue to be performed unsafely each year.

Over 5 million of these result in complications some of which may end in death. Almost every one of these deaths and complications could have been prevented through sexuality education, contraceptive use, and the provision of safe, legal induced abortion, and care for complications of unsafe abortions.

 9. Reducing the maternal mortality ratio has been slow.

Since 1990 the global maternal mortality ratio has declined by only 2.3% annually instead of the 5.5% needed to achieve MDG 5a; but in some countries, accelerated rates of decline were observed after 2000. This means that with continued efforts, it is possible to end preventable maternal mortality and reach the new SDG. SDG 3 strives to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births by 2030, with no country having a maternal mortality rate twice the global average.

10. The lack of skilled care is the main obstacle to better health for mothers.

This is aggravated by a global shortage of qualified health workers. Only 51% of women in low-income countries benefit from skilled care during childbirth. This means that millions of births are not assisted by a midwife, a doctor or a trained nurse.

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