According to recent estimates, more than 358,000 women die each year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth – one every 90 seconds. Most of these deaths could have been prevented if women had access to affordable and timely quality medical services, and if they had been empowered to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive rights.
The vast majority of women who die are poor and come from developing countries. In rich countries, the women who do die are more likely to come from marginalized and poor communities.
This is not just a global health emergency; it is a human rights scandal.
Women have the right to life, but they are dying needlessly because of poverty, injustice and gender discrimination. Women have the right to the highest attainable standard of health, but they face financial and social barriers in access to health care. Women have the right to determine when they become pregnant, but many are denied contraception and control over their bodies.
Skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric care are key to reducing maternal mortality. But in too many places health care services are of poor quality or are simply inaccessible, especially for women living in poverty and women living in remote areas.
Governments are responsible for ensuring these services are provided.
When women living in poverty have to pay for health care, delays in accessing it are exacerbated. There are delays in the decision to go to a clinic or hospital, delays in reaching the facility because of time spent raising money and delays in receiving treatment once they arrive. These delays can prove deadly.
Poverty drives maternal mortality, and maternal death and injury drive families further into poverty. The women who die leave behind families struggling to survive. More than one million children are left motherless each year.
Maternal mortality reflects the cycle of human rights abuse – deprivation, exclusion, insecurity and voicelessness – that defines and perpetuates poverty.