What's Behind The Welcome Drop In Maternal Mortalities?

It's not often that there's good news for women's access to health care, but here's some: maternal mortality is down by one third since 1990. What did the trick?

According to World Health Organization (WHO), Unicef, the UN Population Fund and the World Bank, the number of women dying in childbirth annually has gone from 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008.

And while that number is still far too high, the Guardian's Poverty Matters blogger notes that this will help momentum towards more work on the subject. "When nothing improves, people get a sense that they are throwing money at an intractable problem. That is not so."

Here are the reasons for the changes: improved access to family planning leading to lower birth rates overall, better-educated women, and better access to medical care. According to the report,

In developing regions the proportion of deliveries attended by skilled health personnel rose from 53% in 1990 to 63% in 2008. Similarly, the proportion of women attended at least once during pregnancy by skilled health-care personnel increased from 64% to 80%, while the proportion of women aged 15–49 who are using any method of contraception also increased from 52% to 62%.

There was a sharp divergence by country in contraceptive use: Eastern Asia, which saw the greatest decline in maternal mortality in the period, "has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 86% as opposed to only 22% in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with one of the lowest [maternal mortality rate] declines."

Overall, developing countries account for 99% of deaths, and sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia for 87 percent of them. 42,000 of the deaths in 2008 were attributed to pregnant women with HIV or AIDS.

Speaking of the UN and women, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has been appointed the head of the new U.N. agency to advance women's rights. According to The Times,

It took four years of wrangling among member states to create the agency, which consolidates four smaller agencies whose work on women's issues often overlapped. It has been given the rather unwieldy title of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, but in diplomatic shorthand it is often called the "Gender Entity."

That's catchy!

Reason To Rejoice Over Drop In Maternal Deaths [Guardian]
Former Chilean President to Lead New U.N. Agency [NYT]