Maternal health

Maternal and newborn health is a core component of many of our programmes. It’s fundamental to our commitment to support the right of women to enjoy good sexual and reproductive health.

Midwife in Manila talks to women in the community

For women in much of the world, pregnancy and giving birth are life threatening events. Every year, 358,000 women die as a result. Many more suffer pregnancy-related health problems which can be permanently debilitating such as birth injuries, fistulae and chronic health problems.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the lifetime risk of dying from such complications is one in 22; in some African countries the rate is as high as one in eight. But the problem is not just confined to Africa; Afghanistan has the world’s second highest rate of maternal deaths.

Preventable deaths

The tragedy is that almost all of these deaths are preventable if women have access to the correct care. The five main causes of maternal death – haemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, eclampsia and obstructed labour – are all preventable or treatable by the presence of properly skilled attendants at births and by emergency obstetric care.

It’s currently estimated that only 40% of births in the developing world are attended by a skilled health worker such as a midwife. This figure can be as low as 10% in some countries.

Helping achieve Millennium Development Goal 5

We’re committed to helping countries achieve Millennium Development Goal 5, which is why maternal and newborn health is a core component of many of our programmes. It’s fundamental to our commitment to support the right of women to enjoy good sexual and reproductive health.

Supporting women to plan and space their children’s births by the correct use of voluntary family planning is a core part of protecting women’s health. Each pregnancy becomes physically more demanding for a mother. It puts her life and her baby’s life at greater risk. 

Advice on contraception and non-judgemental counselling on pregnancy options are therefore fundamental to all our maternal and newborn health activities.

The right to quality care

If a woman chooses to have a child, she should have the right to quality and affordable care and support. Our work involves: educating women about safe motherhood, prenatal care, antenatal care, training skilled birth attendants, obstetric care, the management of complications and emergencies, and care for mothers after birth.

As with all our programmes we use innovative methods to get this care to the women who need it most, such as our HealthyBaby voucher scheme.

Integrating maternal healthcare

Maternal healthcare work is closely linked with our other sexual and reproductive health services, such as preventing unplanned pregnancy and addressing unsafe abortion.

We manage abortion complications and provide post-abortion care, and where abortion is legal, provide safe services for terminations. 

We offer women family planning information, counselling, and information and services about sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. We are offering youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services.

Working in partnership

Partnership is key in our maternal health work as elsewhere. We work with governments and other organisations to improve maternal and neonatal care at all levels of countries’ health systems.

This involves helping governments around the world to assess their maternal health needs, to plan for solutions and translate their plans into action.

As a result of the services we provided in 2012, we estimate that we will have prevented 5.3 million unintended pregnancies, 11,300 maternal deaths and 2.1 million unsafe abortions.

To find out more about the programmes where Marie Stopes International provides maternal health information and services, please visit the where in the world section of our website.

Maternal health case studies: