Maternal Mortality Down Worldwide, Except in United States

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Maternal Mortality Down Worldwide, Except in United States

Martha Kempner

New data shows there has been a 44 percent decrease in the maternal mortality rate worldwide over the last 25 years—but in the United States, along with 12 other countries, maternal mortality rates rose during this period.

There has been a 44 percent decrease in the worldwide maternal mortality rate over the past 25 years, according to data released Wednesday by the United Nations.

While many countries—especially those in Eastern Asia—have made a great deal of progress since 1990, the United States is one of 13 countries that saw maternal mortality rates rise during this period.

In 1990, 12 women died for every 100,000 births in the United States. Now that number is 14, meaning that the country’s maternal mortality rate is double that of Canada.

Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, or the first six weeks after giving birth. Worldwide, there have been about 303,000 deaths so far this year, compared to 532,000 in 1990. When averaged across all countries, 216 women die for every 100,000 live births, though the rates vary widely by country.

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The new data is part of an analysis, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015, which gauged progress toward reaching the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The UN target is to get the global average maternal death rate below 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, with no country averaging worse than 140.

Many countries have made great strides over the past few decades. The biggest improvement of any region was in Eastern Asia, where the maternal mortality rate fell 72 percent from about 95 per 100,000 live births to just 27. Though two out of three maternal deaths worldwide occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, even that region saw improvement, with a decrease of nearly 45 percent. In 1990, there were 987 deaths per 100,000 live births there. Today that number is down to 546.

One of the biggest success stories is the Eastern European country of Belarus, which cut maternal deaths from 33 per 100,000 births down to four. Belarus now ranks as one of the safest places to have a baby, alongside Iceland, Finland, Greece, and Poland.

While the United States, like other developed nations, is well ahead of the UN target, it was one of 13 countries—including North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe—in which the maternal mortality rate increased over the past quarter century.

“Over the past 25 years, a woman’s risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes has nearly halved,” Dr. Flavia Bustreo, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for family, women’s, and children’s health, said in a UN statement. “That’s real progress, although it is not enough. We know that we can virtually end these deaths by 2030 and this is what we are committing to work towards.”

To reach the UN’s target, the report suggests countries need to focus on health interventions, including “practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of infection; injecting oxytocin immediately after childbirth to reduce the risk of severe bleeding; identifying and addressing potentially fatal conditions like pregnancy-induced hypertension; and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services and family planning for women.”