Safe Motherhood

Stepping up Efforts to Save Mothers' Lives

Every day, almost 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth. Every two minutes, the 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.

Of the hundreds of thousands of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth each year, 90 per cent live in Africa and Asia. The majority of women are dying 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.  This three-pronged strategy is key to the accomplishment of the goal:

  • All women have access to contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies
  • All pregnant women have access to skilled care at the time of birth
  • All those with complications have timely access to quality emergency obstetric care

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 Campaign to End Fistula and the UNFPA-ICM Midwifery Programme are now integrated into this umbrella fund.

UNFPA has also teamed up with five partners, UNICEF, the World Bank, World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNWomen, to accelerate progress in saving the lives of women and newborns. Collectively known as the 'The Health 4+' or 'H4+',  the six agencies have pledged to support countries with the highest maternal mortality rates.

The H4+ joined the Every Woman Every Child effort in 2010 to support to the Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health. The agencies have helped countries to make commitments to this global initiative, and with the UN’s MDG Advocates and partners, are supporting a group of countries—that together accounts for almost 60 per cent of global maternal deaths—to mobilize the financial, technical and human resources needed to meet their commitments.

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Latest News

16 September 2014

In Thailand’s refugee camps, shifting attitudes about sexual and reproductive health

MAE SOT, Thailand – Visiting a sexual and reproductive health clinic may seem ordinary for many women. But this is not the case for Saba, 21, who has been living in the Mae La refugee camp along Thailand’s border with Myanmar for the last two years. Until recently, social norms prevented women in the camp from seeking these essential health services. more
11 September 2014

Pregnant women forced to flee escalating crisis in Iraq

DUHOK, Iraq – As hostilities neared her village in northern Iraq, 30-year-old Khawla had little choice but to flee – while she was eight months pregnant. She and her seven children spent days on the run before Khawla gave birth in a UNFPA-assisted hospital. more
10 September 2014

Sierra Leone saves lives with sunlight

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – Fatmata Kamara, from Sierra Leone’s Kambia District, could not hide her surprise when she learned she would not have to bring candles or a torch to the clinic when she was ready to deliver her baby. An innovative UNFPA-supported project is providing electricity in maternal health clinics that were previously left in the dark. more
29 August 2014

From promise to action: Ending preventable maternal deaths in Kenya

UNITED NATIONS, New York – Key governors committed to take action to reduce Kenya’s high maternal death rate at a UNFPA-organized meeting held this week in Nairobi. The event brought together over 200 officials to address Kenya’s persistently high rate of maternal mortality, which is among the highest in the world. more
26 August 2014

Serving Syrian refugee women amid Iraq's escalating crisis

AMMAN/NEW YORK – Over 200,000 Syrian refugees are living in Iraq, having escaped the four-year-long conflict in their homeland. Yet for some, the move offers little respite from crisis: A UNFPA assessment has shown that northern Iraq is facing its worst humanitarian and health emergency in years. more