Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Time We Know What to Do


By Jill Sheffield

Reading the news is usually an ordeal of watching the world fall apart at an accelerating pace, so when four United Nations agencies offer a new count of mothers’ deaths worldwide in pregnancy and childbirth, one braces for another depressing and insoluble problem. The numbers over the past 20 years, after all, have been stubbornly high: one death per minute on average.

Today, however, the news is jarring because it’s good: the 2008 total of maternal deaths is down 35 percent from 1990. About 358,000 women died in 2008 from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, according to Trends in Maternal Mortality, a recent joint report from the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund. The study reinforces one by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) earlier this year that put the number at 342,900. Both figures translate roughly to one death every 90 seconds. That’s a definite improvement over one per minute. But is it enough?

Of course not. A thousand women per day is still a horrendous toll in human devastation, and it is almost completely unnecessary. Disparities among the 171 countries ranked in the UN report prove that we know what to do to save women’s lives, and that where governments have had the political will to invest in meeting women’s needs, even in the developing world, those investments have paid off.

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