SWITZERLAND —According to a report released by United Nations agencies, there has been a stagnation or an increase in maternal deaths in nearly all regions of the world.
The report titled Trends in maternal mortality shows that there were an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2020, with two women dying every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth.
Although there were significant reductions in maternal deaths from 2000 to 2015, the gains largely stalled, and progress has either stagnated or reversed in some regions since then.
This marks only a slight decrease from 309,000 in 2016 when the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect.
In two of the eight UN regions — Europe and Northern America, and Latin America and the Caribbean — the maternal mortality rate increased from 2016 to 2020, by 17% and 15% respectively.
Nearly 70% of all maternal deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa, with nine countries facing severe humanitarian crises having maternal mortality rates that were more than double the world average.
Severe bleeding, high blood pressure, pregnancy-related infections, complications from unsafe abortion, and underlying conditions that can be aggravated by pregnancy, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, were the leading causes of maternal deaths.
The report called for the need to ensure every woman and girl has access to critical health services before, during, and after childbirth, and that they can fully exercise their reproductive rights.
Community-centered primary health care, investments in primary health care systems, and stronger and more resilient health systems were also called for.
Furthermore, access to high-quality and respectful healthcare, family planning, and midwives should be prioritized to save lives, improve health and well-being, and advance the rights of and opportunities for women and adolescents.
Roughly a third of women do not have even four of the recommended eight antenatal checks or receive essential postnatal care. Furthermore, some 270 million women lack access to modern family planning methods.
Slowing momentum on reducing maternal mortality
The global goal of reducing maternal mortality to below 70 deaths per 100,000 births by 2030, as set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and endorsed by governments worldwide, has been hindered by humanitarian crises, conflict, and the worsening effects of climate change.
A critical step in reducing maternal mortality is preventing unintended pregnancies, which make up nearly half of all pregnancies.
This in turn requires increasing access to contraceptives, improving comprehensive sexuality education, and protecting women’s right to decide whether, when, and with whom to have children, with unsafe abortion being among the leading causes of maternal mortality.
To combat this crisis, experts recommend strengthening healthcare systems, providing universal healthcare coverage, and addressing barriers that hinder marginalized communities’ access to quality care.
Preventing unintended pregnancies is also crucial, which requires increasing access to contraceptives, comprehensive sexuality education, and protecting women’s right to make decisions about their reproductive health, as unsafe abortions are among the leading causes of maternal mortality.
Midwives play a vital role in saving mothers’ and babies’ lives and supporting them with high-quality education and training, leadership roles, and the ability to work within well-functioning health systems and collaborative teams is essential.
To provide the best possible care to mothers and babies, strong and functional health systems must be in place to support midwives.