State of the World's Children


2013: Children with Disabilities

2012 : Children in an urban world

2011: Adolescence

Special: Child rights

2009: Maternal + newborn health

2008: Child survival

2007: Gender equality


2009: Maternal + newborn health

The greatest health divide in the world

© UNICEF/2009

Maternal deaths are one of the world’s most neglected problems, and progress on reducing the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) so far has been painfully too slow.

Each year, more than 500,000 women and girls globally die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and nearly 4 million newborns die within 28 days of birth.

Millions more suffer needlessly from disability, disease, infection and injury.

Of all global maternal deaths, two thirds occur in ten countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Niger and United Republic of Tanzania. But these are not necessarily the countries where women suffer the highest lifetime risk of maternal death.

A woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 8 in Afghanistan. On the other hand, her sisters in Malaysia fare better with a life-time risk of only 1 in 560, while for women in Australia, it is 1 in 13,300 and in Ireland where the MMR is 1 – the lowest in the world, the lifetime risk is 1 in 47,600.

Based on 2005 data, the average lifetime risk of a woman in a least developed country dying from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth is more than 300 times greater than for a woman living in an industrialised country.

The divide in neonatal deaths between industrialised countries and developing regions is also wide. Based on 2004 data, a child born in a least developed country is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first 28 days of life than one born in an industrialised country.

This divide between industrialised countries and developing regions – particularly the least developed countries – is perhaps greater on maternal mortality than on almost any other issue, and is often termed the “greatest health divide in the world”.

Saving and improving lives

The challenge for improving maternal and newborn health must be an urgent priority for all of us. Not because the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals draw near, but because women matter.

The 2009 edition of UNICEF’s flagship annual report, The State of the World's Children examines critical issues in maternal and newborn health, and explores policies, programs and partnerships to save and improve lives to build strong societies and nations.

'Lifetime risk' is the probability that a woman will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth over her lifetime; it takes into account both the maternal mortality ratio (probability of maternal death per childbirth) and the total fertility rate (probable number of births per woman during her reproductive years).





Video: SOWC 2009


State of the World's Children's 2009

Maternal and Newborn Health

Millennium Development Goal 5

Newsline: SOWC 2009


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