The issues

How many women and girls die in childbirth?

Having a baby should be a time of great joy and hope. But every year across the world 287,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth*. That’s one mother dying every 2 minutes, 800 each day. Another 7-10 million women and girls suffer severe or long lasting illnesses caused by complications in pregnancy and childbirth. These women do not need to suffer and die; most lives could be saved relatively easily and cheaply.

Every year across the world 287,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth

  • 162,000 deaths in childbirth occur in sub Saharan Africa, that’s 56% of the total.
  • Women and girls living in poor countries face a much greater risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth then those living in wealthy countries. 99% of deaths take place in developing countries.
  • The maternal mortality ratio (that is the number of women dying per 100,000 live births) is 240 in developing countries compared with 16 in developed countries.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa the maternal mortality ratio is 500 per 100,000 live births.
  • A woman’s lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 150 in developing countries compared to 1 in 3800 in developed countries.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth risk rises to 1 in 39. This compares with a risk of just 1 in 4600 for mothers living in the UK.
  • Poorer women, particularly those living in rural areas with poor access to health services are far more likely to die in childbirth than those who are wealthier or who live in urban areas.

Being a young mother brings additional risks. This is often linked to child marriage with 1 in 3 girls in developing countries being married before the age of 18.

  • Girls and young women aged 15-20 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than those in their 20s.
  • Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die from maternal causes than adult women.
  • In sub Saharan Africa, 46% of girls are married before the age of 18.
  • Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death amongst adolescent girls in most developing countries.

The impact of a mother’s death

The death of a mother has a devastating effect on her children, her family and her community.

  • Every year more than a million children lose their mother as a result of her death in pregnancy or childbirth. These children are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those living in families with a mother.
  • Children without mothers  are less likely to receive proper nutrition, health care and education.
  • The implications of a mother’s death for girls are particularly great, often leading to a continued cycle of poverty and poor health.
  • On a wider scale, it is estimated that over $15 billion in productivity is lost due to maternal and newborn death, a huge burden on developing nations.
*Source: WHO 2012