Reducing Maternal Mortality, Achieving Maternal Health

There’s a new report on maternal health that has just been published in The Lancet and commented on by a variety of publications, including the New York Times and PBS NewsHour. The Lancet piece, available here as a 15-page PDF, is an analysis of the maternal mortality data in 181 countries from 1980 to 2008, which has shown a steady decrease in the rate of maternal death around the world. The numbers are undeniably impressive: in 1980 there were 526,300 maternal deaths worldwide, while in 2008 the number of women who died during pregnancy and childbirth was reduced to 342,900.

The decline in mortality as described in the New York Times article Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe provides “robust reason for optimism,” according to Lancet Editor Dr. Richard Horton. However, the goal is not simply to reduce deaths but to improve health and protect women’s rights on a number of different fronts. IWHC President Adrienne Germain says that the reduction in maternal mortality “is one indicator of maternal health, it’s not the only indicator, so to get a better measure we need a wider range of data,” in a piece on the PBS NewsHour blog The Rundown today.

To survive—and thrive—girls and women require a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services (contraception, maternity care, safe abortion, and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS), along with comprehensive sexuality education and protection of their human rights.

Fortunately, in May, President Obama announced a $63 billion, ten-year Global Health Initiative for foreign assistance, stating that we can no longer “confront individual preventable illnesses in isolation.” The core principles underpinning the Global Health Initiative mirror the vision of my organization and that of our partners worldwide: a comprehensive, woman-focused model of care centered on the realities and needs of local communities. We must build on this example if we wish to achieve true progress toward maternal health.

The International Women’s Health Coalition sees the attainment of maternal health as possible only within the larger framework of sexual rights and reproductive health. Read more on our Factsheet, Five Sexual and Reproductive Health Services that Will Make Pregnancy Safer for All.



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