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Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 – 2015. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division

This report presents internationally comparable maternal mortality ratio estimates, including trends from 1990 to 2015. It is the eighth in a series of analyses by the United Nations agencies, led by The Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG), which comprises of the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Bank Group, and the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), together with a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, National University of Singapore and University of California at Berkeley.

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is a measure of maternal mortality. It refers to the number of maternal deaths during a given time period per 100,000 live births in the same time period. The estimates are important for measuring progress on the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 target 5A: to reduce the MMR by at least 75% between 1990 and 2015.  The estimates are now important for tracking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.1: to reduce the global MMR to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.

Method

The methods used to calculate these latest estimates build directly on the methods used in previous reports, with two key improvements:

  1. The latest estimates are more informed by national data than in previous years.  This is because better country-level data is now available, as a result of improved civil registration systems, population-based surveys, specialized studies, surveillance studies and censuses.
  2. Data from higher quality sources are given more weight, so that they influence the final estimates more than data that are less precise or accurate. The size of the uncertainty interval around an estimate give an indication of the overall quality of the data informing the estimates, with larger uncertainty intervals for estimates using lower quality data.

To ensure transparency, the statistical code and data inputted are publicly available online.

Results

The results described in this report are the most accurate maternal mortality estimates.  These 2015 estimates replace previous estimates and should be used for all years in 1990–2015 period.

  • In 2015, an estimated 303,000 women died due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth, down from 532,000 in 1990
  • Global maternal mortality reduced by nearly 44% over the past 25 years, to an estimated 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015
  • Approximately 99% of the global maternal deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest MMR (546 deaths per 100,000 live births)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two thirds of all maternal deaths (201,000 deaths in 2015)
  • Sierra Leone is estimated to have the highest MMR worldwide, at 1360 deaths per 100,000 live births
  • Nigeria and India are estimated to account for over one third of all maternal deaths worldwide in 2015, with an approximate 58,000 maternal deaths (19%) and 45,000 maternal deaths (15%). Eighteen other countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, are estimated to have very high MMR in 2015, including Nigeria (814) and Malawi (634)
  • More than half of all maternal deaths occur in countries experiencing crisis and conflict
  • 9 countries achieved MDG5 (Bhutan, Cambodia, Cabo Verde, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, Mongolia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste)

Looking forward

The report concludes with a call to action to end preventable maternal mortality.  As highlighted, accelerated efforts are needed to save the lives of pregnant women and mothers, paired with country-driven efforts to accurately count lives and record deaths.  The report notes the importance of the new Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health and calls for a rapid acceleration of efforts to end all preventable maternal deaths. 

To view WHO infographics on Saving Mothers’ Lives, click here.

You can also download country profiles showing trends and data sources here – including for E4A MamaYe countries:

  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Malawi
  • Nigeria
  • Sierra Leone
  • Tanzania

To view a table key figures for MamaYe countries, click here (including a note on interpretating the figures).

To read the full report, click here.  

WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group & the United Nations Population Division. (2015). Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 – 2015. Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division. Geneva: WHO.

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