An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns — approximately one every 11 seconds — die each year worldwide, mostly from preventable causes, according to a new report on female and child mortality released by UNICEF and WHO.
“Around the world, birth is a joyous occasion,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a news release. “Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy. A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth, along with clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicines and vaccines, can make the difference between life and death. We must do all it takes to invest in universal health coverage to save these precious lives.”
According to the report, 6.2 million children aged younger than 15 years died in 2018, and over 290,000 women died from complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2017. Of the total child deaths, 5.3 million occurred within the first 5 years of life, including nearly half within a month of birth.
Women and children in sub-Saharan Africa face a significantly higher risk for death than in all other regions, with levels of maternal deaths nearly 50 times higher for women living there than in other regions, according to the report. Infants in Africa are 10 times more likely to die in their first month of life, compared with high-income countries. Further, women in sub-Saharan Africa face a one in 37 lifetime risk for dying during pregnancy or childbirth, whereas this risk for a woman in Europe is one in 6,500. Similarly, one in 13 children in sub-Saharan Africa died before their fifth birthday in 2018 compared with one in 196 European children aged younger than 5 years.
According to a new report, 6.2 million children aged younger than 15 years died in 2018.
Source: © UNICEF/Abdul
These and similar statistics highlight “vast inequalities worldwide,” the report noted. It also highlighted the major causes of childhood deaths, most of which were attributed to infectious causes including pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. For older children, road traffic injuries and drowning are significant causes of death and disability.
Maternal deaths are often caused by obstetric complications including high blood pressure during pregnancy and severe bleeding or infections during or after childbirth, according to the report. Increasingly, these deaths are being caused by an “existing disease or condition aggravated by the effects of pregnancy.”
Despite the significant and geographically unequal distribution of deaths in these demographics, the report highlighted global improvements, noting that more women and their children are surviving today than ever before. According to the report, improved access to affordable, quality health services has reduced child deaths by nearly half and maternal deaths by over one-third since 2000.
“In countries that provide everyone with safe, affordable, high-quality health services, women and babies survive and thrive,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in the release. “This is the power of universal health coverage.”
WHO has set a global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030. Its target for ending preventable deaths of newborns and children aged younger than 5 years is to reduce neonatal mortality to at worst 12 per 1,000 live births and mortality of children younger than 5 years to at worst 25 per 1,000 live births. – by Joe Gramigna
The UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation. Levels & Trends in Child Mortality Report 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019.
WHO. More women and children survive today than ever before – UN report. Accessed September 18, 2019.
Disclosures: Fore and Tedros report no relevant financial disclosures.