Most Newborn and Maternal Deaths Could Be Prevented, Report Finds

Most of the approximately two million childbirth-related neonatal and maternal deaths each year could be prevented, a new study led by experts from Save the Children USA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Johns Hopkins University finds.

Presented during the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics' congress in Cape Town, South Africa, the report found that 99 percent of newborn and maternal deaths at birth occur in poor countries, mostly in Africa and South Asia, where more than 50 percent of women deliver without a skilled attendant. But while deaths at birth outnumber child deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS, the issue has received relatively little attention or investment, due in part to a lack of consensus on prevention methods in low-resource healthcare settings and homes.

To prevent childbirth-related deaths, the report offers five recommendations: improving the quality of care in existing facilities, reducing delays in receiving care, expanding access to care by shifting tasks to mid-level and community health workers, mobilizing the community to increase births in health facilities, and providing basic, low-cost technology.

"These huge numbers of deaths are much more than statistics," said Joy E. Lawn, senior policy and research advisor for Save the Children USA's Saving Newborn Lives program. "Each death is a tragedy to a family — actually, a double tragedy — since almost all these deaths could be prevented. We must do more to introduce innovations in terms of tools, technology, and task-shifting in order to reach the poorest."