Maternal mortality is the death of either a pregnant woman or a woman who has recently given birth. The cause is typically due to a complication from the pregnancy or the delivery. The most common of these complications is due to postpartum bleeding and unsafe abortions. Other things that lead to maternal mortality are infections, blood clots, and obstructed labor. Preexisting conditions such as HIV/AIDS and malaria often complicate pregnancies as well. Aside from health concerns, other socioeconomic indicators can affect the maternal death rate, including age, income, family and social support systems, and lack of access to trained medical staff. Some countries suffer from higher maternal mortality rates than others.
Highest Maternal Mortality Rates
Some of the highest mortality rates in the world are all countries on the African continent. In fact, approximately 62% of all maternal deaths worldwide occur there.
The country that leads the list is Sierra Leone, an African nation, with a maternal mortality rate of 1,360 deaths per 100,000 births. This is one of the poorest countries in Africa, which increases the chance that the mother will not survive pregnancy. Countries with extreme poverty have increased numbers of maternal deaths for many different reasons including a lack of prenatal care and no trained medical professionals to assist in the birth.
Central African Republic
After Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic makes the list at number 2. In this nation, 882 out of every 100,000 births results in a maternal mortality. This is the third poorest country in Africa with a per capita GDP of $333. Women living in poverty do not have access to healthcare facilities. Lack of access can be because clinics are non-existent or women don’t have transportation to reach those that are further away. Here, 45% of babies are born at home, there are only 8 obstetricians and gynecologists in the country.
The third highest maternal mortality rate can be found in Chad. The number of women here who die as a result of pregnancy is 856 per 100,000 births. Many factors contribute to this astounding result including multiple births with fewer than 2 years between pregnancies and young birth mothers. Adolescent pregnancies result in more premature births and increased cases of obstetric fistulas which lead to maternal deaths. Another problem in Chad is the low social status of women. When women are unimportant, the same is true of their health. Low levels of health education also make it difficult to improve maternal survival rate. When people do not understand a health problem exists, they are simply less likely to seek medical attention.
Other countries with high maternal mortality rates (and their respective numbers of maternal deaths per 100,000 births) are Nigeria (814), South Sudan (789), Somalia (732), Liberia (725), Burundi (712), Gambia (706), and Democratic Republic of Congo (690).
Government leaders in Africa have placed the issue of maternal health as a policy priority in an attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goals. One of these goals is to reduce maternal mortality by 75%. Some progress has been made and the numbers above actually reflect a small improvement over previous years. In addition, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) work with government officials and community members to increase knowledge regarding inequality in health care access and promoting universal health coverage. WHO also provides health care training and guidelines for community health workers to assist in births, whether at home or in a clinic.