I have a major assignment for one of my international public health subjects where I have to choose a public health issue that affects a “resource poor” country and basically write about it, and some programs that could help, etc. Anyways, I thought I might choose a country with a high rate of maternal deaths. A maternal death, you might be able to guess, is basically when a woman dies in childbirth, in the few weeks after childbirth relating to complications from the pregnancy, or whilst pregnant due to the pregnancy.

Today I was reading through the 2005 World Health Report, produced by the World Health Organisation entitled “Make every mother and child count”. In it I found some truly staggering information, which I have decided to share with you now.

Many of you will be aware of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were produced by the United Nations (i think…) as targets in many different areas, some of which pertain to health to be achieved by 2015. The fifth goal is as follows: “improve maternal health”.

This is broken down into two targets: Target 1: reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio. Target 2: achieve universal access to reproductive health.

These are by no means easy targets, however sadly, not much progress has been made in the 20 years since the MDGs were set. According to the 2005 WHR, “Pregnancy and childbirth and their consequences are still the leading causes of death, disease and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries – more than any other single health problem.” In 2005 an estimated 529 000 women were dying each year due to pregnancy and childbirth. In Australia, this figure is about 20 per year. In fact, maternal death is probably as close as we’ll come to eradicated from the western world.

The United Nations website suggests that the “high risk of dying in childbirth continues unabated in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia”, a suggestion which is backed up by WHO whose statistics show that in Africa the lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 16 (compared with 1 in 2800 in the West).

Another startling statistic is that of the 529 000 maternal deaths each year, 68 000 are due to unsafe abortions. That’s almost 13%. Women may be forced into having unsafe abortions when it is illegal in their country, and when they are unable to afford or access safe abortion clinics. I have a few thoughts on this. Personally, I do not support abortion as a practice, as I believe that new life begins at fertilisation. However, I certainly do not think that making abortion illegal is a good way to reduce abortions, and believe that unsafe abortions are one of the WORST outcomes possible. How is it that societies in our world can be so unsupportive of women with children that 68 000 women were willing to risk their own lives, and lose them, due to unsafe abortions? It’s just devastating.

Overall, I truly believe that if we can almost eradicate maternal death in the west, it should also be possible everywhere else in the world. The 529 000 women who die annually due to childbirth and pregnancy is a devastating and needless loss of life. In fact, if these women were able to access health care during and in the few weeks following childbirth, maybe they wouldn’t have died?

I would encourage you to read “Make every mother and child count” (WHR, 2005).