Factsheet: Maternal Mortality

Pregnancy remains the leading killer of women in their reproductive years in developing countries.

  • Every minute of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy and childbirth – adding up to more than half a million deaths each year. For every woman who dies, 30 more suffer chronic illness or disability as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Children without mothers are three times as likely to die before their fifth birthday; they often enrol in school late and leave school early.
  • In some places, maternal mortality is worsening. Liberia’s maternal mortality rates went up by a staggering 71 per cent between 2001 and 2006, even while infant mortality rates improved.
  • Cost remains a major barrier to care. In Burkina Faso, a normal delivery costs nearly half a poor family’s annual income, a caesarean 138 per cent of yearly income.
  • Risk is unacceptably high. In Afghanistan, a woman giving birth is more than three times as likely to die as a Canadian soldier in action. 
  • Change is possible. Sri Lanka, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal and Honduras all slashed their maternal mortality rates in less than 10 years. 
  • Long-term investment in health care is critical. Just one more midwife could save the lives of 219 women. $1 million invested in family planning could avert 360,000 unwanted pregnancies, prevent 150,000 abortions and save the lives of 800 mothers and 11,000 infants.
  • Gender inequality lies at the heart of the problem. Women and girls have less education, assets, services and security; 12 per cent of women suffer domestic violence during pregnancy.