Tracking Progress on Millennium Development Goal 5A
In the past 20 years, the global maternal mortality ratio has declined by almost half, signifying an important commitment to maternal health. However, these gains continue to fall short of Millennium Development Goal 5A (a 75% reduction of the maternal mortality ratio by 2015). In fact, the least progress has been made in this area among all the MDGs. Most maternal deaths in developing countries can be prevented through nutrition, adequate and timely health care, skilled attendance at birth, and existing interventions. In order to meet this goal post-2015, accelerated efforts, increased interest in the public sphere, and a strong political backing of women’s health are required. While the maternal mortality ratio has not declined as much as targeted, some impressive reductions have occurred across the globe.
Southern Asia, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa have all made the most progress towards achieving the targeted reduction in maternal mortality. Maternal deaths in these regions have fallen by approximately two-thirds since 1990. By increasing the proportion of births attended by skilled health care providers and introducing family planning services, these countries have achieved substantial gains for women’s health.
Bangladesh, for example, committed to training 3,000 midwives by 2015 to increase the percentage of births that take place in the presence of a skilled health care worker. Access to family planning services, skilled birth attendance, and emergency obstetric care has garnered gains for Jamaica, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tunisia. Sierra Leone launched the Free Healthcare initiative for women and children under five years in 2010. This program provides basic healthcare services at no cost in order to tackle one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world.
Other regions have much more work to do. The world’s highest maternal mortality rates continue to plague Sub-Saharan Africa, where skilled attendance at birth and contraceptive use is low. In Zimbabwe, maternal mortality actually rose over the past decade. Lack of access to adequate care, either financial or geographical, and lack of programs targeting improvements have not only hindered progress, but have actively made childbirth more dangerous.
Although many countries have not met this goal, the MDGs have spurred increased surveillance of maternal deaths over the past two decades and brought maternal health to the public’s attention. Because of the advancements and mistakes made in the last twenty years, today’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality are better equipped to affect lasting change and achieve safe motherhood.
1. The Millennium Development Goals report 2013 New York: United Nations; 2013.