Combating Maternal Mortality Crucial To Meeting MDGs

May 24, 2011

Maternal Health in PeruMost maternal deaths are entirely preventable. Yet, while the world is making progress in fighting maternal mortality, far too many women are still losing their lives.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the most prominent global anti-poverty initiative ever undertaken.  The goals set out targets for alleviating extreme poverty, including reducing maternal deaths by 75% (MDG5), by 2015. However, even this modest target will not be met by the deadline unless efforts are significantly stepped up.

Meeting the maternal mortality target, for example, would require a 5.5% annual reduction in maternal deaths since 1990, and the world has seen only 2.3% annual improvement.  A woman still dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth every 90 seconds.

Casualties of this too-slow progress are women like the mother of José Meneses Salazar, from one of the poorest regions of Peru, who died in childbirth when José was 15. Fearing staff would mistreat her, she did not go to the health center for prenatal care. When she went into labor, the midwife at the nearest health post was on leave, so José’s father and other relatives delivered the baby themselves—but they didn’t know what to do when she suffered a retained placenta (when part or all of the placenta stays inside the mother’s uterus after child birth), and she died two hours later.

Troublingly, stories like this are not uncommon. While the Peruvian government has made efforts in reducing the country’s maternal mortality ratio, many populations – like the poorest of the poor, minorities, and rural women – are being left behind.  Though the country saw a 61% drop in maternal mortality rates between 1990 and 2008, poor and Indigenous women remain at much greater risk.

As documented in Amnesty International’s report, From Promises to Delivery: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of the Millennium Development Goals, truly incorporating human rights into the MDGs would help ensure that marginalized populations aren’t left behind in development.  Putting human rights at the heart of the MDGs would mean that countries would:

  • Ensure that the human rights of all people are promoted in development
  • Ensure that those living in poverty are active participants in development
  • Ensure accountability and compliance with human rights standards in development policies and programs

Human rights advocates now have two urgent tasks.  First we must push governments to incorporate human rights into current MDGs policy, between now and 2015.  And second, we must lay the groundwork to ensure that the development framework that succeeds the MDGs after 2015 – the “MDGs 2.0” – has human rights at its heart.  Sign our online action  today and join the thousands of activists around the country who wrote action cards this Mother’s Day season to urge Secretary of State Clinton to endorse a human rights approach to MDG 5, and U.S. MDGs policy more broadly.