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Every two minutes globally, a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications

Every two minutes, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth, according to the latest estimates released in a report by United Nations agencies released Thursday.

The report, Trends in maternal mortality, revealed alarming setbacks for women’s health over recent years, as maternal deaths either increased or stagnated in nearly all regions of the world.

The report shows that 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) are the leading causes of maternal deaths.

“These are all largely preventable and treatable with access to high-quality and respectful healthcare.

“Community-centered primary health care can meet the needs of women, children and adolescents and enable equitable access to critical services such as assisted births and pre-and post-natal care, childhood vaccinations, nutrition and family planning.

“However, under-funding of primary health care systems, a lack of trained health care workers and weak supply chains for medical products are threatening progress,” the report notes.

severe bleeding, high blood pressure, pregnancy-related infections, complications from unsafe abortion, and underlying conditions that can be aggravated by pregnancy are the leading causes of maternal deaths

It adds that roughly a third of women do not have even four of the recommended eight antenatal checks or receive essential postnatal care, while some 270 million women lack access to modern family planning methods.

Maternal deaths continue to be largely concentrated in the poorest parts of the world and in countries affected by conflict.

“In 2020, about 70 per cent of all maternal deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa. In nine countries facing severe humanitarian crises, maternal mortality rates were more than double the world average (551 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 223 globally),” it reveals.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, said “While pregnancy should be a time of immense hope and a positive experience for all women, it is, tragically, still a shockingly dangerous experience for millions around the world who lack access to high quality, respectful health care.

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“These new statistics reveal the urgent 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.”

The report, which tracks maternal deaths nationally, regionally and globally from 2000 to 2020, shows there were an estimated 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2020.

This marks only a slight decrease from 309,000 in 2016 when the Sustainable Development Goals came into effect.

While the report presents some significant progress in reducing maternal deaths between 2000 and 2015, gains largely stalled, or in some cases even reversed, after this point.

“For millions of families, the miracle of childbirth is marred by the tragedy of maternal deaths,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “No mother should have to fear for her life while bringing a baby into the world, especially when the knowledge and tools to treat common complications exist. Equity in healthcare gives every mother, no matter who they are or where they are, a fair chance at a safe delivery and a healthy future with their family.”

“This report provides yet another stark reminder of the urgent need to double down on our commitment to women and adolescent health,” said Juan Pablo Uribe, Global Director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank, and Director of the Global Financing Facility. “With immediate action, more investments in primary health care and stronger, more resilient health systems, we can save lives, improve health and well-being, and advance the rights of and opportunities for women and adolescents.”

“It is unacceptable that so many women continue to die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. Over 280,000 fatalities in a single year is unconscionable,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “We can and must do better by urgently investing in family planning and filling the global shortage of 900,000 midwives so that every woman can get the lifesaving care she needs. We have the tools, knowledge and resources to end preventable maternal deaths; what we need now is the political will.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic may have further held back progress on maternal health. Noting the current data series ends in 2020, more data will be needed to show the true impacts of the pandemic on maternal deaths. However, COVID-19 infections can increase risks during pregnancy, so countries should take action to ensure pregnant women and those planning pregnancies have access to COVID-19 vaccines and effective antenatal care.

The report reveals that the world must significantly accelerate progress to meet global targets for reducing maternal deaths, or else risk the lives of over one million more women by 2030.

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