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Health

10 things you didn’t know about maternal health

Gates Foundation

With Mother’s Day around the corner (and my birthday falling on the same day this year ;)) I’ve been thinking a lot about how thankful I am for having been brought into this world with no complications. This is definitely something I’ve taken for granted my entire life (sorry Mom). Throughout her pregnancy, my mother was safe and healthy, and surrounded by excellent doctors and a supportive family. From the stories I’ve been told, she was glowing and comfortable and the day I was born was a happy and joyful occasion.  

I believe that ALL mothers deserve to have that kind of experience. For many women, motherhood and the incredible feat of bringing a child into this world is a very positive and fulfilling experience. However, for too many mothers, and especially those living in the developing world, this is not the case. We can change this.  

While the negative aspects of this topic are quite sad, I want to remind you that complications due to inadequate maternal health care ARE preventable. So I hope this article doesn’t bum you out, but rather gives you hope that if we work together and raise our voices to advocate for improved maternal health, ALL mothers can have the beautiful experience they deserve bringing life into the world.   

On my quest to understand more about the issue of maternal health, this is what I learned:

My first question was, so...what exactly is maternal health? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal health is defined as the “health of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.”

Here are 10 facts from WHO about maternal health that blew me away:

1. Every day, almost 800 women die because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. 800. Every. Single. Day.

It’s honestly hard to wrap your head around that large of a number and it’s devastating to know that we lose so many mothers each and every day. In the year 2013 alone, 289,000 mothers around the world died because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

2. There are 4 main reasons that mothers die during pregnancy and childbirth.

These include: severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortions, and hypertensive disorders (like pre-eclampsia and eclampsia). If unattended, even a healthy mother can die from bleeding after she delivers her child if it is not addressed within 2 hours. Again, most of these deaths are preventable.

United Nations

3. More than 135 million women give birth every year.

That is A LOT of moms. And sadly, about 20 million of them will experience pregnancy-related illness after giving birth.

4. Nearly 16 million GIRLS give birth each year (aged between 15 and 19).

“In low-and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls who are the ages 15-19.” This is not okay.

Gates Foundation

5. Maternal health mirrors the gap between the rich and the poor.

According to WHO, “less than 1% of maternal deaths occur in high-income countries.” And, “maternal mortality is higher in rural areas and among poorer and less educated communities.” This next fact blew me away the most: 500 of the 800 women who die every day from giving birth, live in sub-Saharan Africa.

6. MOST of the maternal deaths that happen CAN be prevented.

The fact that most of these deaths can be prevented is insane to me. What’s missing? Skilled care during childbirth + adequate access to emergency obstetric care.

Gates Foundation

7. Many women don’t see a skilled health professional enough during pregnancy.

Only about half of women receive the recommended 4 visits (at least) during their pregnancy. Mothers who aren’t able to attend the necessary amount of check-ups risk being able to detect problems early on.

8. About 22 million abortions continue to be performed UNSAFELY each year.

47,000 of those women die each year due to having unsafe abortions with another 5 million complications. And according to WHO, almost EVERY one of those deaths and complications could have been prevented through sexuality education, contraceptive use, and the provision of safe, legal induced abortion and care for complications of abortion.

Gates Foundation

9. Reducing the maternal mortality ratio has been a slow moving process.

Since 1990, the global maternal mortality ratio has only declined by 2.6% annually. We can do better than this!

10. The lack of skilled care is the main obstacle to better health for mothers

According to WHO, this is aggravated by a global shortage of qualified health workers.

Gates Foundation


My biggest takeaway is that all of this suffering is completely unnecessary. And the good news is, this CAN be prevented. It's time we stand up and ensure that all mothers have access to maternal health. Let's do our part to make sure that every mother is given the opportunity to have a healthy and happy expereince during her pregnancy, both before and after giving birth. We need to show that we value the mothers of the world; we literally wouldn’t be here without them. Take action now to support mothers around the world.


Note: This article includes discussion of reproductive rights. The UN considers such issues to be human rights issues, but not all partners involved in Global Citizen agree with this position, and therefore this article should not be considered to express the views of all groups involved with Global Citizen.