African Countries are the Focus of New Maternal Mortality Targets
UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem

Nineteen countries have been prioritised for support to implement new global targets aimed at preventing maternal and newborn deaths.

This emerged at the launch on Tuesday of the new targets, which were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and their partners in the Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) initiative.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said that while the global community had committed to reducing the global maternal mortality rates to 70 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030 as part of the sustainable development goals (SDG), it was not moving fast enough. 

“If the current pace prevails, we will not reach this goal before 2065,” said Kanem. “This is a wake-up call for us to urgently scale up and accelerate our efforts with less than 10 years to go.”

Fourteen of the chosen countries are in Africa and include Chad, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, as well as Nigeria and Ethiopia.

The five non-African countries are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Nepal and Laos. 

The 19 priority countries identified for action against maternal mortality.

The 19 countries will get support to implement and monitor the targets, according to the UN agency officials. There are five targets:

  • 90% pregnant women to attend four or more antenatal care visits (towards increasing to eight visits by 2030);
  • 90% of births to be attended by skilled health personnel;
  • 80% of women who have just given birth to access postnatal care within two days of delivery;
  • 60% of the population to have access to emergency obstetric care within two hours of travel time;
  • 65% of women to be able to make informed and empowered decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use, and their reproductive health.

Country selection involved a number of factors including a high burden of maternal deaths and stillbirths, the strength of country midwifery and whether there were partners to support the ministries of health, according to World Health Organization’s (WHO)  Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director for Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing.

Preventable deaths

Addressing the launch, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that around 295,000 women died each year due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and there were two million stillbirths and 2.4 million newborn deaths annually.

“Most of these deaths are in low and middle-income countries,” said Tedros.

“Most of these [deaths] could have been prevented with quality pre- and post-natal care and birthing assistance from competent maternal and newborn health professionals,” said Tedros.

“The COVID 19 pandemic has badly disrupted essential health services around the world, including for maternal and newborn care. WHO is supporting countries to resume these services regardless of a woman’s COVID-19 status,” he added.

In 2017, the global maternal mortality ratio was around 211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which was a 38% reduction compared to 2000 – a reduction of around 2,9% per year.

“Universal health coverage, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health care, will be key to providing equitable access to quality maternal health services,” said Kanem. 

Kanem said that her agency, the WHO and partners are “committed to helping countries achieve coverage targets by implementing action-oriented plans, and by tracking progress at the national and sub-national levels”.

She stressed that the targets “also incorporate key determinants of maternal health, including a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own sexual and reproductive health”. 

The SDG 3.1 sets out that by 2030, the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR) should be reduced to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, and no country should have an MMR more than 140 per 100,000 live births.

“The latest estimates are 211 per 100,000 live births – but increasing to 415 on average in the poorest countries,” according to the WHO.


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