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A Call to Action on Maternal Health Care

Analysis Haley Nicholson, Legislative Analyst

This Saturday, April 11, marks the second annual International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. Access to maternal health around the world has made great strides since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) were introduced fifteen years ago. This year marks the deadline for the MDGs, and there are already negotiations underway for the next set of goals—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Improving maternal health (MDG5) continues to be one of the most important health topics in these processes as it impacts women, children, and their families.

The MDGs are drawing to a close this year, but many countries are not on track to meet targets around maternal health.

Since the creation of the MDGs, all regions have seen progress on maternal health. Overall, “the maternal mortality ratio dropped by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 380 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births.” This progress is inspiring, but upon further inspection, the drop in maternal mortality is not even across regions. Many developing countries are still struggling with high maternal mortality rates. Many of them will also fall far short of meeting MDG5’s targets of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health. The maternal mortality ratio in low-resource and low-income regions is as much as 14 times higher than the ratio in developed regions.

At the core of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity is the expansion of the basic rights of women and girls. Women and girls around the world endure some of the harshest living conditions and fight against some of the strictest religious and cultural stigma when it comes to maternal and reproductive health access. Many women and girls in this world are giving birth in unsafe settings, not receiving adequate delivery care, and dying from pregnancy complications that could easily be treated by having a few basic drugs on hand. The second-leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 globally is pregnancy complications and unsafe delivery.

The U.S. government plays a leading role in funding and supporting maternal health programs abroad, primarily through USAID programs. Last summer, USAID made a public commitment to accelerating the pace of ending preventable maternal deaths and announced the creation of the official position of a Maternal Newborn and Child Health Coordinator to take on these issues. One of the agency’s biggest targets is to “achieve a maternal mortality rate of fewer than 50 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2035.”

While this goal is surely ambitious, this level of commitment is necessary now more than ever and should be embraced not just by the U.S., but by all countries engaged in the post-2015 process. The U.S. can take a stand for women around the world by helping to ensure that the SDGs include a call to action for all nations to accelerate the pace of ending preventable maternal deaths.

Women and girls around the world shouldn’t have to keep waiting for the care they deserve.

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