National Partnership for Women & Families

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INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Washington Post Examines Maternal Mortality Rates in Developing Countries

INTERNATIONAL NEWS | Washington Post Examines Maternal Mortality Rates in Developing Countries
[Oct. 14, 2008]

The Washington Post on Sunday examined the high rates of maternal mortality in some developing countries -- an issue that "rarely gets attention from international donors." According to the Post, more than 500,000 women worldwide die annually in childbirth -- about one every minute -- usually from causes that could be prevented with basic medical care, such as bleeding, infection, obstructed labor and preeclampsia. Maternal mortality often does not receive attention from international donors because they focus resources on fighting other global health issues like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, according to the Post. Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said that maternal death is "an almost invisible death."

According to the United Nations, Sierra Leone has the highest rate of maternal mortality worldwide, and a woman living in the country has a one in eight chance of dying in childbirth. Ireland has the lowest rate, with a one in 48,000 chance of a woman dying in childbirth, while the U.S. has a rate of one in 4,800. High rates of maternal mortality in developing countries often are due to a lack of skilled health care providers, inadequately equipped hospitals and widespread poverty that prevents many families from affording medications.

Betsy McCallon of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood said that many countries' cultures and traditions typically give less worth to a woman's life than a man's, an issue that "really reflects the way women are not valued in many societies." She added that "there is not that sense of demand that this is unacceptable, so it continues to happen." The Post piece profiled Fatmata Jalloh, an 18-year-old woman in Sierra Leone who died eight hours after giving birth because of postpartum hemorrhaging (Sullivan, Washington Post, 10/12).