News

The Toll of Maternal Death Remains High but is Gaining Attention

3 June 2009
Author: UNFPA

New York — Every minute, a woman dies in the developing world as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. For years, the tragic deaths of 500,000 mothers each year has been more or less invisible. The dead women are typically buried with little fanfare; their families, usually impoverished, are left to cope with their loss as best they can.

Progress in reducing these deaths has been halting. Nevertheless, the issue is gaining ground in terms of political commitments and media attention. For instance, in a speech to the World Health Assembly last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named maternal mortality "a key barometer of a functioning health system.”

At the same assembly, Sarah Brown, the wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, gave a stirring keynote speech about maternal death. Mrs. Brown, a champion of maternal health, has been speaking extensively on the topic in high profile forums ranging from the launch of a new maternal morbidity report at the House of Commons to last month’s African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles.

The New York Times, and other major media, have also been giving wider attention to the issue. The Times recently featured a front page story ‘Where Life’s Start Is a Deadly Risk’ on Tanzania's efforts to improve maternal health. It is the first of a series of three articles on the subject that will significantly raise the profile of the issue among the paper’s readership. This was followed up by a feature detailing the brutal consequences of unsafe abortion in Tanzania. A story from BBC News Service last week called attention to maternal deaths in Cambodia caused by lack of supplies and equipment.

The African Union had also taken on the maternal and child mortality as Africa’s most critical issue. Ministers of health from AU member states met in Ethiopia earlier this month kick-off a Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa.

Reducing maternal mortality is one of the targets for Millennium Development Goal 5 (Improving Maternal Health). It is the Millennium Development Goal that has shown the least progress since 2000, and the one that reveals the greatest disparity between rich and poor.

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