Medical advances and prenatal control measures have contributed to a reduction in maternal mortality rates by a third in 20 years, but despite this, the complications during pregnancy or childbirth still cause the death of a woman every two minutes in the world, as revealed by a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies.
Specifically, the overall maternal mortality rate decreased by 34.3% over a 20-year period and went from 339 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 223 maternal deaths in 2020. However, that means that in 2020 deaths almost 800 women every day, about one every two minutes.
The data shows that in 2020, 287,000 women around the world died while pregnant or giving birth to their children, which is a slight reduction compared to the 309,000 who died in 2016 when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) began. As reported by this body, although the rates decreased significantly between 2000 and 2015, they have stagnated between 2016 and 2020, and have even worsened again in some areas of the planet.
Approximately 70% of maternal deaths in 2020 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate is “136 times higher” than in Australia and New Zealand.
For example, in Europe and North America and Latin America and the Caribbean – which are two of the eight UN regions – the maternal mortality rate has increased from 2016 to 2020 by 17% and 15%, respectively. However, the authors of the report consider that there is room for improvement, since in two other regions (Australia and New Zealand, and Central and South Asia) there have been significant decreases (by 35% and 16%, respectively) in the maternal mortality rates during the same period, as in 31 countries around the world.
“While pregnancy should be a moment of immense hope and a positive experience for all women, tragically it remains a terribly dangerous experience for millions of women around the world,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. which adds that: “These new statistics reveal the urgent need to ensure that all women and girls have access to key health services… and that they can fully exercise their reproductive rights.”
More maternal deaths in poor or conflict-affected countries
Maternal deaths continue to be concentrated especially in regions with fewer economic resources and in countries affected by conflicts; Thus, approximately 70% of these deaths registered in 2020 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate is “136 times higher” than in Australia and New Zealand, said Jenny Cresswell, one of the report’s authors, who points out that in Europe the countries with “significant increases” are Greece and Cyprus.
Maternal mortality rates also reached more than double the global average (551 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 223 globally) in nine countries facing severe humanitarian crises: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic from the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
As regards the main causes for which these women died, serious bleeding, gestational hypertension, pregnancy-related infections, complications associated with unsafe abortions and other health problems that can worsen during pregnancy, such as HIV/AIDS infection or malaria that can be prevented and treated with adequate health care.
However, around a third of women do not pass even four of the eight prenatal checkups that are recommended or receive minimal postpartum care. In addition, it is estimated that 270 million women do not have access to contraceptive methods modern, which is essential to guarantee that they can plan and space maternity and protect their health.
“It is unacceptable that so many women continue to die unnecessarily during pregnancy and childbirth. More than 280,000 deaths in a single year is inconceivable”, highlighted the Executive Director of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), Dr. Natalia Kanem. “We can and must do better by urgently investing in Family planning and ending the global shortage of 900,000 midwives so that every woman can receive the vital care she needs. We have the tools, knowledge and resources to end the preventable maternal deaths; what we need now is the political will”, she concludes.