13 Global Maternal Health Statistics Everyone Should Know

Because motherhood sometimes feels overwhelming, it’s easy to focus solely on your own challenges. For lots of us, those include the endless pursuit of that whole work-life balance thing and the fear that you checking your phone for two minutes is ruining your kids’ childhood. But as the following global maternal health statistics make brutally clear, mothers elsewhere face incomparably bigger obstacles. For far too many women and children around the world, pregnancy, motherhood, and early childhood are fraught with disease, fear, and the risk of death. Most of us already know that many developing countries experience a large number of infant loss, pregnancy complications, and more, but taking a closer look at maternal and childhood health issues can really open your eyes to what women around the world go through each day.

We’ve partnered with Walgreens and Vitamin Angels to examine the biggest issues surrounding maternal health care around the world. The statistics below illustrate how drastically life differs for mothers in developing versus developed countries and how much needs to be done to bridge the gap. The first step is education, which organizations like World Health Organization and UNICEF have made a central focus. 

Educating yourself can be as simple as taking a second to read what’s happening around the world to our fellow mothers and their babies. It’s easy to complain about having trouble breastfeeding, having to go back to work, or being kept up all night by a teething 8-month-old. But these 13 global maternal health statistics are great reminders of how lucky women in developed countries are. Hopefully they’ll inspire all of us to do a little more for those who aren’t.

When broken down by the World Health Organization, this statistic means there were around 800 women per day dying during childbirth or from a pregnancy complication, such as haemorrhages, hypertension, and infections. Of these 800 deaths per day, 500 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and 190 in Southern Asia. This statistic truly outlines the difference in maternal health care between developing countries and developed countries.

A devastating statistic from the World Health Organization, which breaks down to 16,000 children under the age of five dying globally every day. The risk is highest in the Africa, with 81 per 1000 live births dying before they reach the age of five. When comparing high-income and low-income countries, the mortality rate is 11 times greater in a low-income country with 76 deaths occurring per 1000 births total.

Ninety-nine percent of maternal-related deaths occur in developing countries (this includes both women and children), largely related to inadequate or poor quality care. UNICEF reports that more than 50 percent of women in developing countries deliver without the assistance of a trained healthcare professional.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 250 million preschool-age children are vitamin A deficient. Although the problem is worse in low-income countries, especially South-East Asia and Africa, it is a serious issue in more than half of all countries. Vitamin A is important for the heart, lungs, and other organs, but it’s especially needed to promote normal, healthy eyesight. The WHO notes that, for children, this deficiency can cause severe visual impairment and blindness, with half of the children who become blind dying within 12 months of their diagnosis because of an increased risk of common infections like measles and diarrhoeal disease.

According to UNICEF, this statistic was greater in South Asia with 30 percent of children under the age of five being underweight due to malnutrition, followed by West and Central Africa with 22 percent of children. That being said, there are fewer underweight children today than in 1990.

UNICEF notes that this translates to nearly 22 million newborns globally with a low birth weight. This was highest in South Asia where one in four newborns weighed less than 5.5 pounds. If a baby survives, a low birth weight can lead to a poor immune system and increased risk of infection.

According to UNICEF, only 39 percent of children are exclusively breastfed in their first five months of life. The largest percentage is found in Eastern and Southern Africa with 56 percent of babies under six months old receiving nothing but breastmilk. The lowest percentage is in West and Central Africa with only 27 percent being breastfed exclusively for the first six months. With breast milk providing immune support, nutrition, and lowering the risk of disease and infection in babies, it’s important that these percentages change, especially in developing countries.

The World Health Organization reports that deaths that occur because of an unsafe abortion make up 13 percent of maternal deaths, with 47,000 women dying from complications each year. Of the unsafe abortions occurring worldwide, 18.5 million of them happen in a developing country.

UNICEF reported that half of the deaths occurring in children under the age of five each year can be attributed to malnutrition. In the United States, less than five percent of children younger than five have their growth stunted by malnutrition. The numbers rise to forty or more percent in some parts of Africa and Asia, further highlighting the differences between developed and developing countries.

According to The March of Dimes, preterm births are the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five, with more than 60 percent of preterm births occurring in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Two thirds of the preterm births accounted for globally are found in 15 countries with the United States being number six on the list. The March of Dimes noted that 75 percent of the deaths resulting from preterm birth could be prevented with feasible and cost-effective care.

UNICEF reported that in 2012, 22.6 million children did not receive the basic vaccines they needed to stay healthy and prevent diseases. The World Health Organization stated that immunization prevents two to three million deaths per year and is one of the best public health interventions available.

The World Health Organization reported that more than one third of child deaths could be attributed to child and maternal malnutrition. Prenatal vitamins are thought to help this problem by providing women with the vitamins they may be lacking in food, as well as the folic acid and iron necessary for babies’ healthy development in utero.

According to the World Health Organization, pregnant women should have at least four antenatal visits to make sure everything is going smoothly. Unfortunately, in the poorer parts of Africa and Asia, many women won’t make that minimum. WHO reported that less than half of the women in the poorest 20 percent of households in these countries will receive four prenatal visits. This is a huge example of the differences between rich and poor households, as the women in the richest 20 percent of households in Africa are 1.6 times more likely to receive antenatal care and 1.8 times more likely in Asia.

This post is sponsored by Walgreens. Walgreens is partnering with Vitamin Angels to help provide vitamins for undernourished children around the world. 

Images: ResoluteSupportMedia/Flickr; Courtesy of Claire Joines (13)