Why do so many women still die in pregnancy or childbirth?

Online Q&A
21 August 2013

Q: Why do so many women still die in pregnancy or childbirth?

A: Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 287 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.

Five direct complications account for most of maternal deaths: haemorrhage , infection, unsafe abortion, eclampsia (very high blood pressure leading to seizures –, and obstructed labour. While these are the main causes of maternal death, unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable, or poor quality care is fundamentally responsible. Maternal deaths are detrimental to social development and wellbeing, as some one million children are left motherless each year. These children are more likely to die within 1-2 years of their mothers' death.

Women need not die in childbirth. We must give a young woman the information and support she needs to control her reproductive health, help her through a pregnancy, and care for her and her newborn well into childhood. The vast majority of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to quality family planning services, skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery, or post-abortion care services and where permissible, safe abortion services. 15% of pregnancies and childbirths need emergency obstetric care because of risks that are difficult to predict. A working health system with skilled personnel is key to saving these women's lives.

WHO is committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters.