Every day almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth. Every loss of a mother shatters a family and threatens the well-being of surviving children. Evidence shows that infants whose mothers die are more likely to die before reaching their second birthday than infants whose mothers survive. And for every woman who dies, 20 or more experience serious complications. These range from chronic infections to disabling injuries such as obstetric fistula.

Maternal death and disability rates mirror the huge discrepancies that exist between the haves and the have-nots both within and between countries. Ninety per cent  of maternal deaths occur in Africa and Asia, where the majority of women die from severe bleeding, infections, eclampsia, obstructed labour and the consequences of unsafe abortions--all  causes for which we have highly effective interventions.

Working for the survival of mothers is a human rights imperative. It also has enormous socio-economic ramifications – and is a crucial international development priority. Both the International Conference on Population and Development and Millennium Development Goals call for a 75 per cent reduction in maternal mortality between 1990 and 2015. 

Significant strides are possible

In countries such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tunisia, significant declines in maternal mortality have occurred as more women have gained access to family planning and skilled birth attendance with backup emergency obstetric care. Many of these countries have halved their maternal deaths in the space of a decade. Cadres of professionally trained midwives have been critical to these successes. In many countres though, severe shortages of trained health providers with midwifery skills are holding back progress.

UNFPA supports safe motherhood initiatives in 91 countries. UNFPA-supported progammes emphasize capacity development in maternal care, especially the strengthening of needed human resources. In emergency settings such as conflict or natural disasters, when women are especially vulnerable, UNFPA seeks to make pregnancy and childbirth as safe as possible. And UNFPA's work to prevent fistula is also making pregnancy safer by providing much needed treatment and calling attention to health systems that are failing to meet the needs of women during the critical time of childbirth.

In 2008, UNFPA established the  Maternal Health Thematic Fund to increase the capacity of national health systems to provide a broad range of quality maternal health services, reduce health inequities, and empower women to exercise their right to maternal health. The Maternal Health Thematic Fund now encompasses the UNFPA-ICM Midwifery Programme and The Campaign to End Fistula. It is aligned with other key initiatives to accelerate progress in making motherhood safer, such as the Global Programme on Reproductive Health Commodity Security.

The H4+ - An interagency alliance for maternal and child health

UNFPA and five partners UNAIDS, UNICEF, UN Women, WHO, and the World Bank, work together as the H4+ in a joint effort to improve the health of women and children and accelerate progress towards achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 (reducing child mortality) and 5 (improving maternal health). The H4+ serves as the lead technical partners for the United Nations Secretary-General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health .

As part of its mission to address maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity the H4+ works to tackle the root causes of these issues—which include gender inequality, low access to education for girls and child marriage—and ensures that linkages with HIV/AIDS programmes are made by working towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission.

Each of the six H4+ partner organizations contribute unique expertise to the field of reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. Harnessing the collective power of each partner’s strengths and capacities, the collaborative nature of the H4+ allows for coordinated and streamlined efforts on the ground, resulting in enhanced impact of country programmes and positive developments in countries that are not on track to achieve MDGs 4 and 5.