Maternal Deaths Continue to Decline

Nearly 80% of fatalities are in 21 countries, study finds

WEDNESDAY, April 14, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A new report shows that 35 percent fewer women are dying around the world from causes related to pregnancy.

The death rate has been falling at an annual rate of more than 1 percent since 1990, researchers report in the April 12 online issue of The Lancet. In 1980, more than half a million women died of causes linked to pregnancy, while about 343,000 died in 2008.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland, reports that the number of women who died per every 100,000 live births fell from 422 in 1980, to 320 in 1990, to 251 in 2008.

"These findings are very encouraging and quite surprising," study co-author Dr. Christopher Murray, of the University of Washington, said in a news release from the school. "There are still too many mothers dying worldwide, but now we have a greater reason for optimism than has generally been perceived."

About a fifth of the deaths are linked to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And almost eight out of every 10 deaths of pregnant mothers are in 21 countries.

The death rates actually grew in some countries -- including Afghanistan, Canada, Norway, the United States and Zimbabwe -- but that may have to do with changes in how the deaths are reported, the researchers noted.

"As we gather more data, we will have a better sense of how much of the rise in maternal deaths can be traced to better reporting and how much may be due to other factors," study author Margaret Hogan, of the University of Washington, said in the same news release.

More information

The World Health Organization has more on maternal health.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, April 12, 2010
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