Healthy women are the foundation of a strong community, and healthy newborns are the future. “No mother should die giving birth” is the essence of Millennium Development Goal 5 and remains a mantra that we and others strive for. A new analysis, published by authors Hogan et al in the Lancet on April 12, indicates that maternal deaths have declined from over 500,000 (in 1980) to less than 350,000 (in 2008).
“What Hogan et al have shown is that programs to reduce fertility rates, increase individual incomes, expand maternal education, and widen access to skilled birth attendants are having a measurable effect-saving the lives of women during pregnancy,” summarizes Richard Horton of Lancet. “Two decades of concerted campaigning by those dedicated to maternal health is working. Even greater investment in that work is likely to deliver even greater benefits. Women have long delivered for society, and, slowly, society is at last delivering for women. This is a moment to celebrate-and accelerate.”
One cannot help but welcome this suggestion that efforts to date are having a measurable effect. Though this data is encouraging, there is still much work to be done in countries that have shown little progress and continue to suffer high maternal death rates. The interagency WHO/UNFPA/UNICEF/World Bank group responsible for producing maternal mortality estimates is finalizing its updated analysis, which hopefully will confirm the findings of Hogan et al.
For now, let us celebrate progress where it has occurred and recommit ourselves to the task of rolling back preventable maternal deaths everywhere.