One woman died every two minutes due to pregnancy or childbirth in 2020, according to a new World Health Organization report, reflecting the persistence of preventable maternal deaths over the past two decades.
From 2016 to 2020, maternal mortality rates remained stable in most countries, the report showed.
But they grew in 17 countries. The regions designated by the United Nations include Europe and North America, with maternal mortality increasing by 17% from 2016 to 2020. In Latin America and the Caribbean, they grew by 15%.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said, “While pregnancy should be a time of immense hope and positive experience for all women, it sadly still remains a shockingly dangerous experience for the millions of people around the world who have little access to high-quality , do not have access to dignified health care.” Ghebreyesus.
The new report, which includes data collected from 2000 to 2020 from 185 countries and territories, shows the extent to which progress in tackling maternal mortality has stalled.
An estimated 287,000 maternal deaths occurred in 2020, the report found – defined as deaths due to pregnancy- or perinatal complications, either during pregnancy or within six weeks after a pregnancy has ended.
But that number doesn’t account for the full scope of the coronavirus pandemic’s effects, which research shows is significant: Covid-19 was a contributing factor in 25% of maternal deaths in the US in 2020 and 2021, a government report As per released last fall.
“The weaker the health system before a disaster, the greater the impact afterward,” said Dr. Willibald Zeck, head of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the United Nations Population Fund.
The WHO report found that nearly 70% of estimated maternal deaths in 2020 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.
The nine countries facing the humanitarian crisis had 551 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, more than double the global average. The list includes Afghanistan, where the Taliban have ramped up women’s rights since seizing power in 2021, and both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, where conflicts have displaced millions.
Meanwhile, maternal mortality has decreased by 35% in Australia and New Zealand and by 16% in Central and Southern Asia from 2016 to 2020.
Thirty-one other countries also had reductions in their maternal mortality rates. Zeck said those places are more likely to have universal health care systems, strong health care workforces that often include midwives, resources to ensure comprehensive medical care, and lower rates of cesarean sections, according to WHO research. Can be harmful if not taken medically necessary.
Most maternal deaths are preventable. They are caused by severe bleeding, high blood pressure, complications from unsafe or inaccessible abortions, and underlying conditions including HIV/AIDS and malaria.
More than 1 million additional maternal deaths will be by 2030 If current trends continue, the WHO report anticipates.
Solutions suggested in the report include strengthening health care systems by hiring more workers, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services, and investing widely in women’s health and education.
Zeck said that ensuring equity in external factors that contribute to health — including economic security and access to education — is also critical to rectifying health disparities based on race and class. In the US, for example, black women historically had the highest maternal mortality rates.
Globally, nearly a third of women do not receive four of the eight recommended prenatal screenings or postnatal care, according to WHO data, and 270 million women do not have access to contraception.
Some experts fear that the abortion ban in the US could lead to a further rise in maternal mortality.
“We have the tools, the knowledge and the resources to end preventable maternal deaths; all we need now is political will,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said in a statement.