The number of women worldwide dying due to complications giving birth has fallen from 523,000 in 1990 to 289,000 in 2010, according to new data from the World Health Organization.
WHO attributes the increased survival rate for women in part to the presence of skilled health professionals at births. From 2005-2012, about 70 percent of births worldwide were assisted by a doctor, nurse or midwife, WHO reported. Still, in developing countries fewer than half of new mothers received professional medical help during childbirth.
The worldwide drop of 45 percent in maternal mortality shows improvement, but WHO had a goal to decrease the mortality rate by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. Nearly 800 women die in childbirth every day, access to health care is limited in the developing world and mortality rates have actually risen in some countries, including the United States.
In the U.S., WHO data indicates mortality rates have risen from 12 out of 100,000 live births in 1990 to 28 per 100,000 in 2013. The reasons for the rise aren't entirely clear, but the Centers for Disease Control reports that an increased number of pregnant women suffer from chronic health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. These medical conditions increase the risk of complications during pregnancy.
Despite the rise, the U.S. still has a low maternal mortality rate compared to many countries. Sierra Leone currently has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the report.
Many other Sub-Saharan African countries also have high mortality rates. A 15-year-old girl living in Sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 40 risk of dying from pregnancy complications during her lifetime, compared to a 1 in 3,300 risk for a female living in Europe.
In order to lower the maternal mortality rate further, more data will have to be gathered to ensure that resources are properly distributed, the organization recommended. Access to sufficient health care before, during and after pregnancy is the best way to prevent death from childbirth complications, according to a WHO press release announcing the maternal mortality rates.
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.