05/18/2012 04:13 pm ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Maternal Mortality Declines, But Every Mother Still Counts

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report recently that includes the latest estimates for maternal deaths around the world. The new data reveals that progress continues and that the number of women dying due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth continues to decrease. The world, however, is still largely off track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for maternal health (to reduce deaths by 3/4 by 2015) unless dramatic new efforts are undertaken urgently.

Overall, this is good news. The latest figures show that 287,000 women died due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth in 2010 and this figure represents a 47% decline from the numbers in 1990. To put this in perspective -- the 2008 figure was closer to 358,000 women dying each year, which is the number that we have been using consistently since 2010. So now, instead of 1,000 women dying every day, the figure is down to 800. We think this is still an unacceptably high number but it does show that progress is possible and the trajectory is moving in the right direction in many parts of the world.

Furthermore, the report highlights ten countries that have already met Millennium Development Goal 5; they are Estonia, the Maldives, Belarus, Romania, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Lithuania, Nepal, and Vietnam. In addition to those ten, there are another nine that are on track to meet the goal by 2015, if current efforts are maintained: Eritrea, Oman, Egypt, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh, China, Lao PDR, Syria, and Cambodia.

Now, here's the sobering part. That's only 19 countries out of the 180 evaluated in this study. There remains a huge inequity in maternal health that leaves the poorest countries most burdened. Still 99% of these deaths are taking place in developing countries with sub-Saharan Africa the most affected. In countries like Chad and Somalia a woman's lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is as high as one in 15.

We have seen less hopeful outcomes amongst adolescent girl populations, for which pregnancy remains the leading cause of death worldwide.

What this report underscores to us is that this issue IS solvable. The steady decline in recent years serves as undeniable proof that we can turn these rates around where we have the will to do so and the resources in place. We just need to expand these same critical, lifesaving interventions to more parts of the world.

This post was previously published on the Every Mother Counts blog.