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New worldwide estimates of maternal mortality rates released by four UN agencies yesterday show a 34 percent decline over an18-year period.

A significantly smaller percentage of women worldwide died from pregnancy-related health problems in 2008 than in 1990.  Still, more than 350,000 pregnant women are dying each year, many of them from unsafe abortions.

The decline in maternal deaths occurred at the same time as global efforts were ramped up to reduce pregnancy-related death and illness, including a new wave of government and civil society initiatives around the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The fifth MDG, titled Improve Maternal Health, sets the target of reducing rates of maternal death by three-quarters by 2015.  The current pace of decline is encouraging, but it is far too slow to meet the target for 2015.  Released by the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank, these numbers come a week before the Millennium Development Summit, a UN gathering of world leaders and development experts to assess progress toward achieving the MDGs.  The estimates show that vast disparities persist between women living in developed countries and their counterparts in the global south — 99 percent of maternal deaths occurred in the developing world, 87 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia alone.

“These numbers demonstrate that we know how to address maternal mortality and have the tools to do it; we simply need to invest more in the fight.  A decline in maternal mortality is a sign that the global community, including Planned Parenthood, has successfully joined together to save women’s lives.  But 358,000 women dying every year from treatable and preventable causes is still 358,000 too many,” said Mary-Jane Wagle, Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president for international programs.  “When world leaders gather at the Millennium Development Summit next week, reducing maternal mortality should be at the top of the agenda.  Governments, NGOs and donors need to redouble their efforts to ensure that getting pregnant is not a death sentence for a woman simply because she lives in a community that lacks resources for protecting women’s health and lives.  Protecting women will require investing in family planning to help women avoid unintended pregnancies as well as expanding access to safe abortion services.  Complications from unsafe abortion are a leading cause of maternal death; we will never reach the MDG targets without addressing the problem of unsafe abortions head on.”


Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 700 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.


Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Leila Darabi, 212-261-4358


May 14, 2014