Today, along with advocates and women around the world, I feel a moment of triumph at the news that maternal death has declined by one-third globally.
According to a new report, Trends in Maternal Mortality released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, "the number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased by 34% from an estimated 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008."
For the last few years, I've relied on the staggering statistic that every minute a women dies in pregnancy and childbirth to draw attention to the dire struggle endured by women around the globe. The number has always stopped people dead in their tracks. For the first time in a long time, I can look down at my watch when the minute hand turns and think of something other than a woman needlessly losing her life.
While this progress is notable, the reality is that the current annual rate of decline in maternal death is less than half of what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal - a gold standard for our collective global development objectives - target of 75% reduction in maternal death by 2015. Still, the new data shows that progress and maternal health is achievable, and it fuels my desire to increase U.S. efforts and involvement to improve maternal health globally.
In Africa and South Asia, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are one of the leading causes of death for women of childbearing age. I wonder how many people are aware of the frequency and pervasiveness of maternal mortality throughout the world.
So many articles come across my desk in a given week, but when I saw an article in the Hindustan Times I was particularly moved by the headline which read, "She gave birth, died. Delhi walked by." This article reveals the tragic story of a woman who gave birth on the side of a busy road in Delhi, India. The unnamed, unaided woman died shortly after giving birth because of lack of medical care. The article narrates how thousands of people on foot, on bicycles and in cars must have passed this woman as she gave birth. Sadly, no one noticed because this is the norm in regions throughout the world where reproductive healthcare is a privilege and not a right. Just four days later the new mother died on the side of the busy road, in the same location where she gave life.
The void that is created when women die during or after childbirth is inescapable. Children are left motherless, husbands are left without their wives, and communities are left without matriarchs. This tragedy is not limited to Delhi, India. There are countless women throughout the world who are left to face the reality of no access to reproductive healthcare.
I am reminded of women like Veronica Komba from Tanzania, whose story was recently featured in UNFPA's Mothers Saved. At the age of 14, Veronica was left homeless, hungry and pregnant. She came very close to death after collapsing in her village from high blood pressure, but her life was spared, primarily because she was able to access transportation to a hospital. A local women's group paid for the vehicle that transported Veronica 60 km to the nearest hospital for the C-Section that saved her life.
Giving birth is especially risky in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without any access to skilled care. It doesn't have to be this way. With greater access to perinatal care, most maternal deaths could be avoided. We can live in a world where no woman dies in childbirth.
By endorsing the Millennium Development Goals ten years ago the U.S., together with 187 other countries worldwide, made a joint promise to women worldwide to reduce maternal mortality and ensure universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015. On September 20-22, the Millennium Development Goals Summit will be held in New York to examine the progress being made on each of the goals to date. While progress is being made overall, the goal of improving maternal health lags behind others. As we draw nearer to 2015, it is evident that there is still work to be done.
1,000 women are dying every day and 20 times as many become ill or injured because of a lack of access to healthcare during their pregnancies and childbirth. Continuing to shed light on this issue is imperative. We at Americans for UNFPA urge you to join our Call to Action by signing on to our petition requesting that the U.S. honors its commitment to improving maternal health and implementing universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015. Don't let another woman die giving life.