And Now For Some Good News: Fewer Women Are Dying In Pregnancy Worldwide
Sometimes it seems that all the news about women's health and children's health - about health, generally - is bad. So much is out there that threatens our children's health. So much threatens our own health. So many obstacles to good health for families around the globe. So many obstacles to good health for moms and babies. So many obstacles to survival - for so many.
Finally, there's some good news, at least on the maternal health front: Fewer women are dying in childbirth. Significantly fewer. That's pretty big news, especially since global maternal mortality has seemed like a particularly intractable problem.
According to the New York Times, a recent study in the medical journal, The Lancet, confirmed that there is "a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980."
“The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress,” the Times quoted the journal’s editor, Dr. Richard Horton. (The article was published online Monday, 4/12/10.)
Progress indeed. Most of the stories that we hear about maternal mortality are pretty discouraging.
- Too many women die in childbirth in so-called lesser developed countries.
- Maternal mortality rates in the United States are worrying (especially in California, where the rate is higher than it is in Kuwait.)
- There are troubling class differences in maternal mortality rates in the West.
So a little bit of good news is, well, good.
The news needs to be looked at closely, however. In Canada, which has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates, that maternal mortality rate has seen a slight increase, which Dr. Andre Lalonde, executive vice-president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, suggests in an interview with the Toronto Star might be attributable to the trend of later maternal age, which carries more risk for pregnancies. ParentCentral, discussing the story, notes that Dr. Lalonde also cited increased rates of obesity as a possible factor. He cautioned, however, that in a country where rates are as low as they are in Canada, even one or two deaths in one year can affect the rate. This is not true in the U.S., where the rate has increased by a startling 42 percent.
Still, the darker news is, as always, in the less-developed world. ParentCentral points to the study's finding that "more than half of all women dying during pregnancy in 2008 lived in six countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo." Rates of maternal mortality may be dropping, but too many women are still dying.
So. Lancet editor Richard Horton called the release of these findings "a moment to celebrate — and accelerate." Let's hold off celebrating and focus on the accelerating, shall we?