health, human rights facts, statistics

Human Rights Facts (42): Lifetime Risk of Maternal Death

One of the Millennium Development Goals is to reduce maternal mortality ratios by three quarters by 2015. While there has been progress, the numbers remain very high, with more than 500,000 women dying every year as a result of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Half of which in sub-Saharan Africa and a third in South Asia. In developing countries, a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 76, compared with 1 in 8,000 in industrialized countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, one woman in every 22 dies because of childbirth.

lifetime risk of maternal death

lifetime risk of maternal death


More statistics on maternal mortality.

economic human rights, health

Economic Human Rights (13): Maternal Mortality

Maternal death, or maternal mortality, is the death of a woman during or shortly after a pregnancy. More than half a million women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year, and many millions suffer from inadequately treated complications. About half of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and about one third occur in South Asia – the two regions together account for about 85 per cent of all maternal deaths. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of maternal death is 1 in 22, compared with 1 in 8.000 in developed countries.

maternal mortality

maternal mortality 2005 map


Major causes

These are the major causes of maternal mortality, as well as the basic remedies:

causes of maternal mortality


Other causes

Other causes of high levels of maternal mortality are:

  • Many women have to give birth without the help of a midwife or doctor
  • In unsanitary conditions
  • Without adequate (nearby) hospitals in case of complications
  • Without adequate drug or blood supplies
  • Insufficient resources to pay for these services


Most maternal deaths are preventable given the easy treatments for infections, blood loss etc. More investments in health systems are needed, but also changes in mentalities and cultural practices so as to take women’s needs more into consideration. Maternal mortality rates are an indicator of a country’s general health service performance and of the cultural position women hold in society. (See this post on gender discrimination).


There has been some progress for some indicators, for example the number of assisted deliveries:

assisted deliveries



Maternal mortality also severely impacts on the children who are left motherless. These children are 10 times more likely than their peers to die within two years of their mothers’ deaths. Young girls who survive are often forced to leave school to care for siblings, and hence diminish their chances of avoiding poverty later in life.

Young mothers

There is a strong correlation between the age of the mother and maternal mortality. Girls between the ages of l0 and 14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24. Girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die:

maternal mortality age of mothers


Here’s a post on the related topic of infant mortality.