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Maternal Morbidity & Mortality: The Risk Mothers Face Worldwide

In the United States in 2010, maternal death as a result of pregnancy, labor, or postpartum complications was 13.3 out of 100,000. Worldwide, the risk of death related to pregnancy and labor is considerably higher than in the United States and other developed countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa a mother’s risk of death as a result of complications from pregnancy or labor is one in thirty. In fact, 70% of the maternal deaths worldwide occur in only 13 countries.

What is maternal morbidity and mortality?

The term “morbidity” refers to how often a disease occurs. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal morbidity as: morbidity (i.e. occurrence of disease) in a woman who has been pregnant, resulting from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. Maternal mortality is the death of a woman as a result of pregnancy or labor complications. Common causes of maternal mortality are: hemorrhage (severe loss of blood), sepsis (infection), high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, unsafe abortion, or obstructed labor. A woman’s risk of maternal death throughout her lifetime can be found by multiplying her risk of dying during any pregnancy by the number of times she will likely become pregnant throughout her life.

What puts a mother at risk?

Maternal mortality is a multi-faceted issue. In many countries, particularly in developing countries, social issues heavily influence maternal mortality. These issues include the availability of healthcare providers, beliefs about the importance of maternal health problems, and the economic, political, and social organization of the country. All of the factors that negatively influence maternal health are also associated with poverty. Studies have shown that the poorest countries have extremely high maternal mortality ratios and that poor women die more frequently as a result of pregnancy or labor complications.

Is maternal mortality preventable?

Maternal mortality is preventable. Deaths during pregnancy and labor are decreased when access to standard and emergency obstetric care is improved. Emergency obstetric care includes performing caesarean deliveries and administering antibiotics when needed, and can be performed by midwives, physicians, or other providers who have been appropriately trained. Improving access to emergency obstetric care requires enhanced monitoring of these services to help positively affect service distribution and quality of care for rural and other under-served citizens. Most developing countries have high rates of maternal mortality because there is insufficient funding to support obstetric care or maternal care is not prioritized. In an effort to change this, and with support from a number of governments and non-governmental institutions, the United Nations has set high marks for reductions in maternal mortality in the next few years.

Every Mother Counts

Every Mother Counts is a non-profit organization started by Christy Turlington Burns, best known for her success as an international supermodel and inspired by her personal experiences with postpartum complications. The organization is working in conjunction with the United Nations to achieve the 2000 Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5): to improve maternal health by reducing maternal mortality 75% by 2015. In 2007, another component was added to MDG5: to achieve universal access to reproductive health. There were seven MDGs developed in 2000 and MDG5 has made the least progress.

Every Mother Counts

Every Mother Counts talks about five main barriers to achieving MDG5.

  1. Availability of emergency services. This is a key component of avoiding maternal death during childbirth.
  2. Access to quality care during labor and delivery, including the attendance of a skilled birthing attendant, considered by many to be a crucial component to good maternal outcomes.
  3. Improving postpartum care will help reduce maternal mortality as 50% of maternal deaths occur 48 hours after labor.
  4. Improved health care systems and policies in the developing countries with high rates of maternal mortality.
  5. Family planning; each year over a 100,000 women could be saved from death during childbirth if they had adequate access to contraception.
Every Mother Counts
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Motivated by her personal experience, Burns became interested in helping mothers who do not have access to the same level of maternal healthcare that quickly rectified a sinister situation for her. Through this journey, she was inspired to tell the stories of women from around the world whose circumstances are not as favorable as her own. She produced the documentary “No Woman, No Cry,” which tells the stories of at-risk pregnant women, discusses current projects to reduce maternal mortality, and issues a Call To Action to keep more mothers alive and well.

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