This article is part of a series of policy briefs on gender equality published by Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for girls’ and women’s health, rights and wellbeing. This piece also appears in our gender policy newsfeed.
In spite of substantial advances in maternal and newborn health over recent decades, roughly 300,000 girls and women still die due to pregnancy related complications every year.
The major causes of maternal death include severe bleeding, infection, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, complications from delivery and unsafe abortion. Combined, these causes account for roughly 73% of all maternal deaths.
However, causes of maternal mortality and morbidity are becoming increasingly diverse, taking into account the effect of non-communicable diseases, as well as environmental and demographic shifts — these diverse needs require responsive policy and care. Weak health systems also contribute to maternal mortality rates, particularly wherever facilities lack essential medical supplies and equipment or basic services such as reliable, accessible water and sanitation.
Nonetheless, there is widespread evidence and agreement within the global community on what needs to be done to prevent these deaths and improve the health and wellbeing of women and babies.
The interventions discussed in this policy brief not only address the leading causes of maternal and newborn death, but they also explore overall health and wellbeing, encompassing adequate nutrition and the prevention and treatment of maternal injuries.
Clinical interventions and health services need to be delivered across a continuum of care — before, during pregnancy and after pregnancy. Holistic women-centered interventions are not only aimed at preventing the leading causes of maternal and newborn deaths, but look to improve the overall health of women and infants.
For example, good nutrition is essential for physical growth, mental development, performance, productivity, health and wellbeing across the entire lifespan, making nutrition a sound investment for any country.
For the continuum of care to have a significant impact on maternal and newborn health, it must also include access to the necessary facilities, medicines, supplies, equipment and skilled health providers. Improved care for women during pregnancy plays a decisive role in reducing newborn and infant mortality rates, as well as low-birth weight and stillbirths. A health system that is ready to deliver for women, when women are ready to deliver, is key.
And, if all girls and women had access to modern contraception and the full range of maternal and newborn health services, maternal death would drop roughly 73%, and newborn deaths would be reduced by about 80%.
Investments in maternal, newborn and reproductive health are sound investments for countries everywhere. They not only save lives, but also increase social and economic benefits for developing nations. Every dollar spent globally on interventions promoting contraception and high-quality maternal and newborn health care would reap $120 in benefits.
Given the important role girls and women play in contributing to national and global economies, ensuring they are healthy makes them more likely to save, invest and deliver better for themselves, their families, communities and societies. Conversely, poor health outcomes, resulting from maternal death, disability and inadequate nutrition, adversely affect the economy and slash family earnings.
Read the full version of the brief for more facts, solutions, case studies and policy recommendations.
(Picture credit: Flickr/World Bank)