Oxfam calls for action on maternal mortality as over half a million women die each year

“It is unacceptable that in this day-and-age, so many women in poor countries are still dying in pregnancy and childbirth”
Emma Seery
Published: 7 March 2008

As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8th, international agency Oxfam highlights the shocking conditions for millions of women giving birth. In sub-Saharan Africa for instance, they still face a one in sixteen chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth. Niger, one of the poorest countries in Africa, is the most dangerous place to give birth with women facing an astonishing one in seven chance of dying.

Every year, Oxfam says, over half a million women in developing countries die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth, most of them needlessly. In 2000 world leaders committed to reducing maternal mortality by three quarters as part of the eight “Millennium Goals” to end extreme poverty.  Eight years on, Oxfam argues, there is no evidence that this rate is declining.

“It is unacceptable that in this day-and-age, so many women in poor countries are still dying in pregnancy and childbirth.  Leaders must address this urgently. It is crucial that they live up to their promises, and give the support and money needed to improve health systems and to save millions of women’s lives”, said Oxfam’s Emma Seery.

The international aid agency is calling on rich countries to increase the amount and the quality of aid they provide to poverty reduction. In 2005, the Group of 8 promised to increase overall annual aid levels by $50 billion by 2010. Oxfam has shown that on current trends, the G8 is likely to miss the target by a staggering $30 billion. The agency calls on the richest countries to live up to their promises when they next meet in July in Japan.

Specifically, Oxfam says that more funding is needed for health, a sector where there is still a shortage of more than 4 million doctors and nurses.  This includes hundreds of thousands of midwives who could save thousands of women’s lives every day.

Oxfam points to the fact that these midwives are key to reducing the number of maternal deaths. Niger, the country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, has just one midwife for every 33,500 people.  By comparison, Sri Lanka has one midwife for every 1800 people, and also has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the developing world.

“The evidence shows that a strong health system that is accessible to everyone, including the poorest, is what is needed to reduce maternal mortality. It’s time to see rich countries put their money on the table, and show that they are serious about keeping their promises and saving women’s lives.” said Seery. 

“In many parts of the world, what ought to be a wondrous event in a woman’s life can be equivalent to a death sentence. This is nothing short of an emergency, and we must address it right now,” concluded Seery.

The 10 most dangerous places to give birth are:

  Country Lifetime risk of maternal death (1 in x)   Ratio of nurses. (1 nurse to every x)
1 Niger 7 4500
 2 Afghanistan 8 4500
 3 Sierra Leone 8 2770
 4 Chad 11 3703
 5 Angola 12 869
 6 Libéria 12 5555
 7 Somalie 12 5263
 8 Rép. dém. Congo     13 1883
 9 Guinée-Bissau 13 1492 
 10 Mali 15 2040
 - Sri Lanka 850 632
 - Royaume-Uni 8200 82

Source: WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and the World Bank (2005)

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Louis Belanger, Oxfam media officer on +1 202-496-1173