Statement

Maternal Death is 'Tip of Iceberg', UNFPA Executive Director Warns

2 April 2007
Author: UNFPA

One woman dies every minute during pregnancy or childbirth, adding up to more than half a million dead women each year, said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “And this is just the tip of the iceberg,” she remarked in her statement for World Health Day, 7 April. “For every woman who dies, there are 20 to 30 others who survive childbirth but suffer debilitating injuries.”

To stop this tragedy, Ms. Obaid said, governments and their partners should make investment in reproductive health an even more urgent priority. “If we are serious about providing health security to women,” she said, we must guarantee universal access to family planning, skilled attendance at birth, emergency obstetric care and services to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

The text follows:

Message of Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, on the Occasion of World Health Day, 7 April 2007

Today on World Health Day, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, joins the World Health Organization in calling for greater health security and stronger action to promote and protect every individual’s right to health, including reproductive health.

With this year marking the 20th anniversary of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, there is no better time than now to focus on the health security of women and mothers. Protecting the health of mothers goes a long way in protecting the health of their children and families.

Yet, the tragic reality is that one woman dies every minute during pregnancy and childbirth, leaving more than half a million women dead each year and one million children without their mothers’ love and care. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every woman who dies, there are 20 to 30 others who survive childbirth but suffer debilitating injuries.

Today, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among young women aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. By any measure, this state of affairs is unacceptable and constitutes a public health crisis. The vast majority of these lives could be saved with cost effective interventions that have been proven to work in several countries. In Egypt and Honduras, the maternal mortality ratio was reduced by half in only seven years. In other countries, maternal health has improved significantly. Key to success is government leadership.

World leaders agree on the priority to reduce needless deaths during pregnancy and childbirth as reflected in Millennium Development Goal 5 to improve maternal health. To make greater progress, every woman needs access to a basic package of reproductive health services. It is estimated that ensuring access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by 20 to 35 per cent, and child deaths by as much as 20 per cent. Ensuring skilled attendance in delivery, backed up by emergency obstetric care, would reduce maternal deaths by about 75 per cent.

Today on World Health Day, UNFPA calls on governments and their partners to invest in reproductive health as an urgent priority. No woman should die giving life. If we are serious about providing health security to women, we must work together to guarantee universal access to family planning, skilled attendance at birth, emergency obstetric care and services to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.