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A pregnant woman or newborn dies every 11 seconds worldwide, WHO report says


A newborn or pregnant woman dies every 11 seconds around the world, despite reduced death rates over nearly two decades, a new report published Thursday from the World Health Organization said.

Child deaths have decreased by nearly 50%, while maternal deaths have declined by more than one-third, the WHO said.

“Around the world, birth is a joyous occasion. Yet, every 11 seconds, a birth is a family tragedy,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, said in a statement. “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.”

Most of the deaths in newborns and mothers in the report are preventable, the WHO said.

Babies most at risk from complications include those that are born too small or prematurely, become ill after birth, are born with birth defects, or those that have pre-birth complications. Mothers can die from complications like high blood pressure during pregnancy, disease or infection that worsen after birth, or severe bleeding or infections during or after giving birth.

Increased quality of healthcare and care for pregnant women and newborns have led to declines in both mortality rates, but an estimated 2.8 million deaths still occur every year. This is equivalent to one death every 11 seconds — with “vast inequalities” existing worldwide.

“Women in sub-Saharan Africa face a 1 in 37 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. By comparison, the lifetime risk for a woman in Europe is 1 in 6500,” the report said.

Mortality rates are far higher in sub-Saharan Africa, where maternal deaths are 50 times higher compared to countries with high incomes. Babies are also 10 times more likely to die within the first month of life, the report said.

“Countries in conflict or humanitarian crisis often have weak health systems that prevent women and children from accessing essential lifesaving care,” the report said.

The WHO noted the increased survival of women and newborns in countries with higher quality health care systems.

"In countries that provide everyone with safe, affordable, high-quality health services, women and babies survive and thrive,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “This is the power of universal health coverage.”

The Sustainable Development Goals Report from the United Nations aims to reduce maternal morality to less than 70 per 100,000 live births, and to reduce neonatal mortality to at least 12 per 1,000 live births by 2030.