Our World at 7 Billion: Maternal Health & Safe Abortion

Maternal health is a cornerstone of quality public health, and it has been the focus of global development goals and debates since the 1980s. Nonetheless, the United Nations reports that more than 350,000 women and girls die each year during pregnancy and childbirth, with 99% of these deaths occurring in developing countries. Maternal mortality accounts for 15% of all female deaths, making complications from pregnancy and childbirth the leading cause of death in women ages 15-19. Deaths from unsafe abortions represent 13% of maternal deaths globally, though these deaths are often underreported or misclassified due to restrictive laws.

“Maternal mortality is both a consequence and a cause of extreme poverty,” says Dr. Carmen Barroso, IPPF/WHR Regional Director. She added, “This is a crucial moment for governments to make up for lost opportunities, and to define the actions that will ensure greater investment in women, children, and young people, with sexual and reproductive health and rights at its center.”

Progress towards ending maternal deaths is “well short of the 5.5 percent annual decline needed to meet the Millennium Development Goal target” of reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015, and only ten countries are on track for reaching this goal on time. However, there is good news: maternal deaths have dropped 35 percent globally in the past 30 years.

Ending maternal mortality requires a comprehensive, integrated package of essential interventions and health services, such as family planning services, safe abortion services, and pre-and post-natal care. It includes a commitment from governments to strengthen the healthcare system and build new infrastructure, train nurses and midwives, subsidize transportation, and develop a comprehensive national sexuality education program. Sexual and reproductive health care for women and their families are vital health services that are essential for ensuring healthy families and strong communities.

As Joel Cohen wrote recently in the New York Times, fulfilling the unmet need for family planning would lost less than "Americans are expected to spend for Halloween this year." Data also shows that investments in family planning would nearly halve the current number of maternal deaths and significantly reduce unintended pregnancies and newborn deaths. Each year $15 billion in global productivity is lost due to maternal and newborn mortality. No one can afford this, either in lives lost or foregone development.

IPPF/WHR cares deeply about ensuring that women have access to the tools and information they need to protect their health and exercise their rights. At a time when financial conservation is of the utmost importance, we need to remember to take a long view. Designing development policies that ensure the health, rights, well-being, and productivity of the world's women and girls is both the right thing to do and also the most fiscally sound.

IPPF/WHR Maternal Health & Abortion Resources:


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