According to a recent New York Times article, maternal deaths have plunged from more than half a million per year in the 1990s to roughly 287,000 in 2010. A report released by the United Nations attributes the decline to better access to and use of contraceptives and of antiretroviral therapies among mothers with AIDS, and more births being attended by doctors, nurses, and medically trained midwives. Though this number is still far too high, the drop in maternal mortality is dramatic and serves as a powerful reminder that we’re heading in the right direction.
Contraceptive access is essential for all women because, according to the World Health Organization, if the 215 million women desiring contraception could get it, each year unintended pregnancies would drop by 71% and maternal deaths would decrease by 67%. In a world of limited resources and 7+ billion people, helping women control their fertility is the right thing to do. By providing women with options that help them make better reproductive choices and protect their health, and by making childbirth safer, women, families, and their communities become stronger and more empowered. The decline is confirmation that inroads can be made and that small changes can make a huge difference.
Maternal mortality remains a major threat to women of all backgrounds. ACOG continues to explore methods of lowering maternal deaths at home and abroad. In the meantime, this good news puts wind in the sails of physicians, women’s health advocates, and communities who tackle this problem from the front lines. And during National Women’s Health Week, it’s an especially fitting time to celebrate.