Millennium Development Goal 5: Improve maternal health


By Cathleen O’Grady

In February of this year, Foundation Beyond Belief notified members that we would be incorporating the Millennium Development Goals into our charity vetting process. In order to better help our members get acquainted with these goals, we are rolling out a monthly explanation of the goals, the progress made thus far toward their achievement, and what we, as a global community, have left to achieve in the remaining three years of the plan. Read more about the background of the Millennium Development Goals here. Unless otherwise noted, all information below comes directly from the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goal 5 has two targets: to reduce the worldwide MMR (maternal mortality ratio, or maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) by 75% between 1990 and 2015, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health care by 2015.

The UN reports that more than 350,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Almost all of these women (99%) are in developing countries: A women’s maternal mortality risk in sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 30, compared to only 1 in 5,600 in developed countries. Maternal mortality also impacts child mortality, with those children who lose their mother up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely.

In order to meet the target of 75% MMR reduction by 2015, an annual decrease of 5.5% per annum was needed. This has not been achieved, meaning that the 2015 goals are unlikely to be reached. However, there has been substantial progress: In sub-Saharan Africa, some countries had reduced the MMR by up to 50% by 2008, and in Northern Africa and Asia, others had made even greater progress (see chart for details). The MMR decreased globally from 440 in 1990 to 240 in 2010.

The vast majority of these deaths are avoidable, including from hemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labor, and hypertensive diseases, but require women to have access to reproductive health services, skilled medical professionals, and adequate supplies and equipment. The UN goal was to achieve universal reproductive health care access by 2015, but this is also no longer attainable, despite significant progress having been made.

According to the 2012 UN report, more women are seeing health workers during pregnancy: 53% of births in the developing world in 1990 were attended by a health professional, which increased to 63% in 2008, and 80% in 2010. Particularly dramatic increases were seen in North Africa and Southeast Asia, where a coverage rate of 90% had been achieved by 2000. Africa still sees large regional disparities, with Southern Africa having achieved almost universal coverage, while only 66% of West African women have access to antenatal health care. Only 55% of women in developing regions saw a healthcare worker the recommended four times during pregnancy.

Adolescence, HIV, and living in a rural area are all still important risk factors in maternal mortality. All of these risk factors can be mitigated by access to contraception, with an estimated third of maternal deaths being due to unmet needs for contraception. However, provision of reproductive health care has actually slowed down globally, with less money available for these programs now than in 2000.

The UN programs to address maternal mortality include widening access to health care, addressing health problems such as fistula, developing mobile medical clinics, and increasing midwife capacity in developing countries.

A succinct progress report for Millennium Development Goal 5 can be found here.

Foundation Beyond Belief considers Millennium Development Goal 5 in its assessment of all beneficiary categories. Learn more about how our Q3 Poverty and Health beneficiary, Hesperian Health Guides, brings health education materials to communities across the globe; and find out about how our Q3 Education beneficiary, Women’s Global Education Project, promotes gender equality and universal education, improving lives for women around the world.

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