Nature is not always our friend

The World Health Organization estimates that the "natural" maternal mortality rate, which women with no access to health care could be expected to suffer, is between 1,000 and 1,500 per 100,000 births.

In Ireland, which has the world's lowest rate of maternal mortality, one woman dies per 100,000 births, so attention to laboring mothers makes a difference. In 2005, the worldwide maternal mortality rate was 402 deaths per 100,000 births.

The highest rates occur in politically unstable parts of Africa and Asia, notably Sierra Leone (2,000 deaths) and Afghanistan (1,900). The rate in the United States is 13, up from 12 the previous year. (All figures are from 2005.)

WHO defines maternal mortality as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, regardless of the duration or site of the pregnancy, as long as the cause of death is related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, and not from accidental or incidental causes.