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Four Main Causes of Maternal Death

The global maternal death rate is down a third from where it was two decades ago according to an encouraging report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Experts say this is a step in the right direction. But the  rate of decline is slower than it needs to be in order to reach the goal of a 75% reduction by 2015.

The reasons for the decline in mortality are improved facilities and the training of more midwives to assist births.More than half the deaths occur in sub-saharan Africa. Another third happened in Southeast Asia.

I was also interested to learn what the four main causes of maternal death are.  According to recent data, they are: 

-Severe bleeding after childbirth

-Infections

-Hypertensive disorders

-Unsafe abortion

When women have access to good basic care all of these things can be avoided or treated.

I like to point out in my childbirth education classes that birth has been safe for women in non-developing countries for a long time now. A big reason women used to die in childbirth was because doctors hadn’t figured out sterile method. When birth moved from the home to the hospital over a century ago, a huge number of women developed  fatal infections after giving birth. This is because physicians went from touching a very diseased (or even dead) patient to catching a baby without washing hands.

It’s so hard to imagine but they just hadn’t figure out germs yet. Soon they did figure that out. And sterile method was introduced. Then came the discovery of antibiotics. We now have a clean blood supply. These are the main reason women do not die in childbirth like they used to. This is very important and very reassuring news to most women in America.

But still maternal mortality in the US is not as low as it should be. In fact, while the global rate is down a third, the US rate has doubled.

Most of the deaths occur among minorities and women living in poverty. According to the CDC, white women have a mortality rate of 9.5 per 100,000 pregnancies, for African-American women, the rate is 32.7 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.

Let’s hope healthcare reform helps bring these numbers down though the authors of Amnesty International’s recent report on maternal deaths, “Deadly Delivery” wasn’t impressed with the efforts being made. “Mothers die not because the United States can’t provide good care, but because it lacks the political will to make sure good care is available to all women,” said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA’s executive director.

Photo: US Army Africa/Flickr

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