Population Matters

Maternal Mortality: Great News, But More to Do

May 21st, 2012

A new report, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010, released last week by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank brings us great news for mothers around the world. Since 1990, the number of mothers who die every year from pregnancy-related causes has fallen from more than 543,000 to 287,000 – a 47 percent drop. This is great news for mothers around the world, but it is not enough.

Progress has not been equal and there are countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, that will not meet Millennium Development Goal Five to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman faces a 1 in 39 lifetime risk of dying due to pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. In South-eastern Asia, the risk is 1 in 290, and in developed countries, it is 1 in 3,800.

Even with this reduction, there is still one woman dying every two minutes and 800 women dying every day. The real tragedy is that while 99 percent of these deaths take place in the developing world, most of them are easily preventable. We know what needs to be done in order to prevent maternal deaths. Women need access to family planning services and supplies, they need access to midwives or health workers trained with midwife skills, and they need access to emergency obstetrical care if they have complications.

In stressing the importance of family planning, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA said:

“Over a quarter of a million women still die in pregnancy and childbirth each year, and more than 215 million women lack access to modern contraceptives. Meeting the need for voluntary family planning for these women would not only fulfill a human right, it would also reduce the number of maternal deaths by a third. This is a highly cost-effective public health strategy.”

This is particularly significant as the House Appropriations Committee marked-up the State and Foreign Operations Budget for FY2013 (fiscal year 2013) last Thursday. As the bill currently stands, it would cut international family planning funding to $461 million.  That’s $149 million below the current funding level and $180 million below the President’s request for FY2013. The bill also cuts off all funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

These cutbacks would have a profound impact on women’s lives around the world. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a $149 million cut in international family planning assistance would mean:

  • 8 million fewer women in poor countries would receive contraceptives;
  • 2.2 million more unintended pregnancies;
  • 1 million more unplanned births;
  • More than 1 million more abortions (745,000 of which would be unsafe);
  • 6,000 more women would die from pregnancy-related causes.

These cuts in the U.S. budget will be a setback to this progress. We cannot continue to make progress for the 287,000 women who are still dying every year if donors are cutting back on their support. It is imperative that we continue to support family planning and maternal health programs so that we can continue to see great news like this 47 percent reduction in maternal deaths.

Tell your elected representatives in Congress that it is time to halt the assault on contraceptives and reproductive rights.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

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