MDG 5: improve maternal health

Reviewed May 2015

Target 5.A. Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio

Target 5.B. Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health

Globally, an estimated 289 000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013, a decline of 45% from levels in 1990. Most of them died because they had no access to skilled routine and emergency care. Since 1990, some countries in Asia and Northern Africa have more than halved maternal mortality.

There has also been progress in sub-Saharan Africa. But here, unlike in the developed world where a woman's life time risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 3700, the risk of maternal death is very high at 1 in 38. Increasing numbers of women are now seeking care during childbirth in health facilities and therefore it is important to ensure that quality of care provided is optimal.

Globally, over 10% of all women do not have access to or are not using an effective method of contraception. It is estimated that satisfying the unmet need for family planning alone could cut the number of maternal deaths by almost a third.

The UN Secretary-General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health aims to prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies between 2011 and 2015 and to save the lives of women who are at risk of dying of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, including unsafe abortion.

WHO key working areas
  • Strengthening health systems and promoting interventions focusing on policies and strategies that work, are pro-poor and cost-effective.
  • Monitoring and evaluating the burden of maternal and newborn ill-health and its impact on societies and their socio-economic development.
  • Building effective partnerships in order to make best use of scarce resources and minimize duplication in efforts to improve maternal and newborn health.
  • Advocating for investment in maternal and newborn health by highlighting the social and economic benefits and by emphasizing maternal mortality as human rights and equity issue.
  • Coordinating research, with wide-scale application, that focuses on improving maternal health in pregnancy and during and after childbirth.

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