NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2008

Every year, about 536,000 women die giving birth, and deaths are heavily weighted to the poorest and most isolated in each country.  However, many politicians remain largely ignorant of the scale of the tragedy, says Time magazine.

But they have reason to be.  Even though, maternal health has seen advances, with new drugs to treat deadly postpartum bleeding and pregnancy-related anemia, such gains are dwarfed by a multitude of problems: scattershot care, low pay for health workers and a scarcity of midwives and doctors, says Time:

  • In Mozambique, where women have a one in 45 lifetime chance of dying in childbirth, there are just three doctors per 100,000 people.
  • In all of Sierra Leone, there are 64 government doctors, only five of whom are gynecologists.
  • Women there have a one in eight chance of dying in childbirth; in fact, since January 2008, 78 women have died in childbirth, an astonishing death rate of nine percent.
  • Millions of families have never seen a doctor or nurse and give birth at home with traditional birthing helpers, while those who make it to a clinic often find patchy electricity, dirty water and few drugs or nurses.
  • About 35 percent of all the world's births do not have a nurse, midwife or doctor in attendance.

In an attempt to jolt officials into action, many governments have chosen to make a drastic reduction in maternal mortality one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) -- a series of targets in a program that channels aid to key issues, including education and clean water -- to be met by 2015.

Since their inception in 2000, millions more African children now attend school, sleep under mosquito nets and thousands of new water wells have been dug.  Yet, the total number of women dying in childbirth has remained virtually unchanged, says Time.

Source: Vivienne Walt, "Death in Birth," Time, September 29, 2008.

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