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If we can make maternal deaths as rare as they are in the healthiest countries we can save almost 300,000 mothers each year

Maternal mortality was much more common in the past. Today, it is much lower — but there are still large inequalities across the world.

830 women die from pregnancy-related causes every day.1 In 2015, 302,700 women in the world died as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.

For many aspects in global development it is true that the world made a lot of progress in the past and we know that we can make a lot of progress still. We’ve shown this before for child mortality and it is true for maternal health too: maternal health is much better than the past; it’s still awful today; and we can do much better.

In the visualization here we compare three scenarios:

Bar chart of maternal deaths per year if we still had the poor health of 1800, at today's global mortality rate, and if all regions achieved the current maternal mortality rate of the European Union. Many more women are saved from dying in pregnancy or childbirth than in the past, but many more could be saved still.

We can see how much global maternal health is improved: if we still had the living standards of 1800, around 1.26 million women would die from pregnancy every year. Almost one million more women would die each year.

But we also see how far we could go. If all regions achieved the healthcare and living standards of the EU very few women would die. Almost 300,000 fewer deaths ; a reduction of over 95%. If we think of it in this way, almost all of the world’s maternal deaths are preventable with adequate maternal care, safe deliveries, good nutrition and hygiene and sanitation.4 This is also the message of the World Health Organization: “Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth."

That most of the world’s maternal deaths could be prevented also becomes clear when we consider that 95% occur in low and lower-middle income countries. Maternal mortality is much more common in poorer countries.

It's unacceptable that a woman in Sierra Leone is 300 to 400 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Sweden or Finland, and we know it is possible to prevent these deaths.

If we can make maternal deaths as rare as they are in the healthiest countries in the world we can save almost 300,000 mothers each year.

Endnotes

  1. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2015, there were 302,680 maternal deaths globally. Averaged over the year, this would be equal to around 830 maternal deaths per day [302,680 / 365 = 830].

  2. Here we assume a global maternal mortality rate of 900 per 100,000 live births in 2015. The UN estimates there were around 140 million births in 2015. This works out at around 1.26 million maternal deaths [140 million / [900 / 100,000] = 1.26 million].

  3. Here we assume a global maternal mortality rate of 8 per 100,000 live births in 2015. The UN estimates there were around 140 million births in 2015. This works out at around 11,000 maternal deaths [140 million / [8 / 100,000] = 11,000].

  4. This of course opens up a much larger question of how many deaths are really preventable i.e. how low could maternal mortality really go. We base our scenario here on the EU-average rate, but we know some countries have an even lower rate: Finland has a rate of 3 per 100,000 live births; and Sweden has a rate of 4. It’s unclear how attainable this is for all countries, or whether this rate could fall even further.

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Our articles and data visualizations rely on work from many different people and organizations. When citing this article, please also cite the underlying data sources. This article can be cited as:

Hannah Ritchie (2019) - “If we can make maternal deaths as rare as they are in the healthiest countries we can save almost 300,000 mothers each year” Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/saving-maternal-lives' [Online Resource]

BibTeX citation

@article{owid-saving-maternal-lives,
    author = {Hannah Ritchie},
    title = {If we can make maternal deaths as rare as they are in the healthiest countries we can save almost 300,000 mothers each year},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2019},
    note = {https://ourworldindata.org/saving-maternal-lives}
}
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