Making a difference in maternal mortality

It isn't that childbirth is more inherently dangerous in countries where many women die in childbirth than in those where relatively few die. The women who survive, statistically speaking, are getting appropriate help from trained attendants.

"...The main complications that lead to death during pregnancy or childbirth are fairly common among all women, regardless of where they live," write the authors of an article titled "Are We Making Progress in Maternal Mortality?" in the May 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.Pregnant Graffiti

Hemorrhage, which most often occurs right after birth, is the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths globally, accounting for 35 percent of all deaths in childbirth, according to the World Health Organization. And in fact, hemorrhage was the second most common complication seen in pregnancies in the United States in 2000.

However, most U.S. women who suffered hemorrhage were treated quickly, and survived, say the article's authors, Anne Paxton and Tessa Wardlaw.

WHO identified the second most common cause of maternal death as hypertensive disorders — pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, for example. Again, these disorders are a common problem all over the world, but women with access to good medical care have a good chance of surviving them.

The countries that are most dangerous for pregnant women are those suffering through wars, or burdened with a large population with HIV/AIDS, the authors write.

In general, poor women die in childbirth more often than affluent ones, rural women more often than urban ones. These populations are more vulnerable because they often deliver their babies without the benefit of skilled birth attendants, and lack access to obstetrical services like surgery by Cesarean section.

Sub-Saharan Africa, with widespread political unrest and HIV/AIDS infection, "has the greatest burden of maternal mortality," even though most countries there are seeing "small but promising" decreases in pregnancy-related deaths.

Worldwide, there is considerable cause for hope, Paxton and Wardlaw write. Maternal mortality has decreased globally by more than one-third since 1990, according to United Nations estimates.

"Dramatic improvements in China and other Asian countries...are associated with economic improvement, decreasing fertility rates and strengthening of health systems...," the authors write.

"The overall rate of decline in global maternal mortality, 2.3 percent, is lower than the 5.5 percent MDG target but is heartening nonetheless," they write.

Image: "Pregnant Graffiti" by Petteri Sulonen


Four good trends for the world’s women

"Women have long delivered for society, and, slowly, society is at last delivering for women. This is a moment to celebrate—and accelerate," The Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton wrote in a commentary that accompanied the publication of a new survey on global maternal mortality the British journal published on Monday.

Four factors associated with maternal mortality are moving in a good direction in many areas of the world, according to the study published this week, which was discussed in the previous post here on Birth Story.

First, the global total fertility rate (TFR), which reflects births per woman, has come down considerably, from 3.7 children in 1980, to 2.6 in 2008. That is a good thing, as the TFR is closely associated with maternal mortality.

Secondly, per capita income is also up, especially in Asia and Latin America. When families have more money, women get more nourishing food, and are more likely to get access to medical care.

Women are also more likely to get some education than they were 30 years ago, which bodes well for a society in which mothers can give birth in a safe environment. Women 25 to 44 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa had 1.5 years of school in 1980, but now have 4.4 years of school on average.

And lastly, women are more likely to have skilled birth attendants in 2008 than they were thirty years ago. "Some large countries such as India have witnessed quite rapid increases in skilled birth attendance in recent years," the study reports.