Study Reports Decline in Maternal Deaths Globally

A study in the medical journal The Lancet recently reported that the global numbers of maternal deaths have been declining significantly. Maternal mortality remains a major challenge to international health systems, and, despite global health initiatives, had seemingly not experienced significant change in recent years. This peer-reviewed study refutes this assumption.

The New York Times reports that this study provides the first important indication of a significant drop in the number of women dying from pregnancy and child birth each year: from close to 527,000 in 1980 to about 342,900 in 2008. The study cites a number of reasons for this improvement including lower pregnancy rates: the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” to provide a level of medical assistance at birth; more education for women; and higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care. Lower numbers in larger countries like China and India also helped to drive down global death rates.

But India has made steady progress, and because its population is so large, its improvements have helped considerable to decrease the worldwide rate of maternal deaths. China has also made considerable progress. In India, there were 408 to 1,080 maternal deaths per 1000,000 live births in 1980, and by 2008, there were 154 to 395, the new study found. In China, there were 144 to 187 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980 and 35 to 46 in 2008.

Researchers hope that this new study will inspire additional initiatives aimed at combating maternal mortality. When leaders can see tangible statistics indicating that their efforts are making a difference, the perception of little to no progress will likely disappear. This important positive finding for global health illustrates that the policies and programs pursued may be having an effect.

Dr. Horton contended that the new data should encourage politicians to spend more on pregnancy-related health matters. The data dispelled the belief that the statistics had been stuck in one dismal place for decades, he said. So money allocated to women’s health is actually accomplishing something, he said, and governments are not throwing good money after bad.

One reason for this perception is the prevalence of AIDS-related deaths of pregnant women. This pandemic is, to a large extent, responsible for rising maternal mortality in eastern and southern Africa. Addressing H.I.V. among pregnant women would be the most effective way to tackle maternal mortality in those regions.

This new information confirms that substantial, albeit varied, global progress is being made toward reducing the Maternal Mortality Ration (MMR). This good news will hopefully encourage the interest of investors and politicians to endorse the safe motherhood movement internationally.

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