Overview | Aperçu

Children in West and Central Africa

UNICEF in the region

Polio immunization | Vaccination contre la polio

Maternal and Newborn Health


HIV/AIDS in the region


Water and Sanitation

Child Protection



Maternal and Newborn Health

Giving birth, a most natural thing, is far too often a life-and-death challenge for women in West and Central Africa.

The region has the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world, and no discernible progress has been made since 1990.

At the present rate of progress, the region will fall well short of the Millennium Development Goal target for maternal mortality reduction (MDG 5).

Countries of the region account for more than 30 per cent of global maternal deaths, from just ten per cent of the world population, and 162,000 women died of pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes in 2005.

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is at 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.  Of the 23 countries in the region with comparable estimates, every country but Cape Verde has an MMR of at least 500, and a third of these countries have an MMR of 1,000 or greater.

Almost two thirds of maternal deaths in the region occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Nigeria – which together account for approximately 20 per cent of all maternal deaths worldwide.  Sierra Leone holds the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, at 2,100.  With the highest number of children per woman and a very high maternal mortality, Niger is the riskiest place to give birth in the world.

The riskiest region to give birth in the world

Women in the region are 470 times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth complications than a mother living in the industrialized world.

The risk of death from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth over the course of a woman's lifetime (lifetime risk of maternal death) averages 1 in 17; in Niger the lifetime risk is as high as 1 in 7, the worst in the world, and in Sierra Leone it is little better, at 1 in 8.

Every day, 460 women die of pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes (1500 for the world) and more than 9,000 suffer from pregnancy-related illness or experience other severe consequences.

Newborn health: regional patterns of neonatal death correlate to those for maternal death

West and Central Africa has one of the highest rates of neonatal death in 2004: 44 per 100,000.

6 countries of the top ten countries with highest neonatal mortality rates are in the region (Liberia (66), Côte d’Ivoire (64), Sierra Leone (56), Mali (54), Central African Republic (52).

The rate of reduction of neonatal mortality is much slower than that of the overall under five mortality rate.

last updated: January 2009

Leading and underlying causes of maternal mortality





Photo Essay | Reportage photos

Sierra Leone : one of the riskiest place to give birth in the world | Sierra Leone: un pays dangereux pour donner la vie (en anglais)

[View photo essay]

In the countries


The State of the World's Children 2009: Maternal and Newborn Health | La situation des enfants dans le monde 2009: Mortalité maternelle et néonatale 
Progress for Children 7: a report card on maternal mortality | Progrès pour les enfants 7: bilan statistique sur la mortalité maternelle
Countdown to 2015: Report 2008

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