Population Matters

Every Two Minutes

May 9th, 2014

This week the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank and the UN released a report with the maternal mortality numbers for 2013. The good news is that maternal deaths are down 45% since 1990, dropping from 523,000 in 1990 to an estimated 289,000 in 2013. Even with the decline, however, a woman dies every two minutes due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth, mostly from preventable causes.

There are large disparities in maternal deaths between countries and regions, with 99 percent of maternal deaths taking place in the developing world. Sixty percent of all maternal deaths occur in just 10 countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Kenya, China, and Uganda. The riskiest region in the world to give birth is sub-Saharan Africa. Chad and Somalia have the highest lifetime risk of maternal death due to pregnancy or childbirth-related cause: in Chad a woman has a 1 in 15 lifetime risk and in Somalia a woman has 1 in 18 lifetime risk.

Eleven countries that had high maternal mortality in 1990 reached their MDG target of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent. Those countries are Bhutan, Cambodia, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Maldives, Nepal, Romania, Rwanda, and Timor-Leste. While many countries are not on track to meet their MDG target, since 2003 the maternal mortality rate has increased in only eight countries.

Unfortunately the United States is one of those eight countries, along with Afghanistan, Belize, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Greece, Seychelles, and South Sudan. In 2013 18.5 women died per 100,000 births in the United States, whereas in 1990 the number was 12.4.

The best news is that we know what needs to be done to save more lives. We need to ensure that girls are allowed to stay in school and be girls, not brides. Right now 15 million girls aged 15-19 give birth every year, and there is a much higher risk of death and injury associated with adolescent pregnancy. Next, we need to ensure that young people are given comprehensive sex education, that more skilled birth attendants are trained, and that they have access to the equipment and medicine needed for a safe delivery. With abortion complications accounting for eight percent of maternal deaths, women also need to be able to access safe abortion care. Finally women and girls need access to family planning services. Right now there are 222 million women in the world who would like to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using modern contraception. If their need for family planning services and information were met it would prevent 79,000 maternal deaths.

This Mother’s day I will be joining the world in celebrating our mothers, and I will be thanking my mom, in particular, for always being there for me and teaching me the importance of giving back. But I will also be thinking of the 800 women who will die on Mother’s Day from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, and how those many of those lives could have been saved.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

Teen Pregnancy Rate Reaches Historic Low

May 6th, 2014

Happy Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month! The month kicks off with great news from the Guttmacher Institute: the teen pregnancy rate has continued to drop, reaching a historic low in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. The Guttmacher Institute’s new report indicates that the teen pregnancy rate has fallen in every state and among all racial and ethnic groups, and at the same time the teen birth and abortion rates have continued to drop as well.

The teen pregnancy numbers for 2010 show that the teen pregnancy rate has dropped 51% from the high in 1990 and by 15% from 2008, with 18-19 year olds making up the majority (69%) of the teen pregnancies. Along with the decline in the teen pregnancy rate, the teen birthrate has also fallen 44% from the peak in 1991 and the teen abortion rate has dropped 66% from the peak in 1988.

While the teen pregnancy rate dropped in all 50 states between 2008 and 2010, there still are significant differences between the states. The states with the highest teen pregnancy rates were in order: New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The rates were the lowest in New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Maine.

The study also showed that between 2008 and 2010 a greater proportion of 18-19 year olds reported having sex, but fewer teens were becoming pregnant. The finding suggests that teens are increasing their use of contraceptives and that they are now using more effective methods of contraception.

While progress is being made, the U.S. still has a long way to go. According to the Guttmacher Institute “teens in the United States and Europe have similar levels of sexual activity. However, European teens are more likely than U.S. teens to use contraceptives generally and to use the most effective methods; they therefore have substantially lower pregnancy rates.”

The report also shows the importance of providing teens with comprehensive sex education and easier access to an effective means of contraception. Unfortunately, as was seen in our 50 State Report Card many states continue to rely on unproven “abstinence-only” education programs.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy