Despite progress, a pregnant woman or newborn dies somewhere in the world every 11 seconds

World Health Organization

More women and children survive today than ever before – UN report

New York/ Geneva 20 September 2019 : More women and their children are surviving today than ever before, according to new child and maternal mortality estimates released today by United Nations groups led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since 2000, child deaths have reduced by nearly half and maternal deaths by over one-third, mostly due to improved access to affordable, quality health services.

“In countries
that provide everyone with safe, affordable, high-quality health services,
women and babies survive and thrive,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
Director-General of WHO
. “This is the power of universal health
coverage.” 

2.8
million pregnant women and newborns die every year

Still, the
new estimates reveal that 6.2 million children under 15 years died in 2018, and
over 290 000 women died due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth in
2017. Of the total child deaths, 5.3 million occurred in the first 5 years,
with almost half of these in the first month of life.

Women and
newborns are most vulnerable during and immediately after childbirth. An
estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11
seconds, mostly of preventable causes, the new estimates say.

Children
face the highest risk of dying in the first month, especially if they are born
too soon or too small, have complications during birth, congenital defects, or
contract infections. About a third of these deaths occur within the first day
and nearly three quarters in the first week alone.

“Around the
world, birth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family
tragedy,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “A skilled pair of
hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean
water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the
difference between life and death. We must do all it takes to invest in
universal health coverage to save these precious lives.”

Vast
inequalities worldwide

The
estimates also show vast inequalities worldwide, with women and children in
sub-Saharan Africa facing a substantially higher risk of death than in all
other regions.

Levels of
maternal deaths are nearly 50 times higher for women in sub-Saharan Africa and
their babies are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life,
compared to high-income countries.

In 2018, 1
in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday– this is
15 times higher than the risk a child faces in Europe, where just 1 in 196
children aged less than 5 die.

Women in
sub-Saharan Africa face a 1 in 37 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or
childbirth. By comparison, the lifetime risk for a woman in Europe is 1 in
6500. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia account for around 80% of global maternal
and child deaths. Countries in conflict or humanitarian crisis often have weak
health systems that prevent women and children from accessing essential
lifesaving care.

Progress
linked to universal health coverage

The world
has made substantial progress in reducing child and maternal mortality. Since
1990, there has been a 56% reduction in deaths of children under 15 years from
14.2 million deaths to 6.2 million in 2018. Countries in Eastern and
South-Eastern Asia have made the most progress, with an 80% decline in
under-five deaths.

And from
2000 to 2017, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 38%. Southern Asia has
made the greatest improvements in maternal survival with a nearly 60% reduction
in the maternal mortality ratio since 2000.

Belarus, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Morocco, Mongolia, Rwanda, Timor-Leste and Zambia are some of the countries that have shown substantial progress in reducing child or maternal mortality. Success has been due to political will to improve access to quality health care by investing in the health workforce, introducing free care for pregnant women and children and supporting family planning. Many of these countries focus on primary health care and universal health coverage.

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