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Washington, D.C., 29 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) – Health leaders from throughout the Americas endorsed a plan of action today to speed up reductions in maternal mortality, prevent serious maternal morbidity, and raise awareness of maternal morbidity and mortality in the hemisphere.

The plan was approved during the 51st Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), being held this week in Washington, D.C.



Some 9,500 women die from pregnancy-related causes in Latin America and the Caribbean each year, according to PAHO estimates. Some 95% of maternal deaths in the region can be prevented by using knowledge currently available, according to PAHO/WHO experts.

This makes maternal deaths "unacceptable" in the Region of the Americas, said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses, adding that governments should mobilize the necessary efforts to prevent these deaths.

The most frequent causes of mortality include pregnancy-induced hypertension (26%), hemorrhage (21%), complications of unsafe abortions (13%), obstructed labor (12%), sepsis (8%), and other direct causes (15%).

Since 1990, maternal mortality in the Americas has declined between 29% and 41%, depending on data sources. This pace of progress is insufficient for the region to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of a 75% reduction in maternal mortality by 2015.

Many maternal deaths are the result of unwanted pregnancies and limited access to contraceptives. In many countries, laws restricting access to contraceptives lead women to resort to unsafe abortion as a contraceptive method. The rate of unsafe abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean is 31 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, in contrast to 22 per 1,000 in the rest of the world. 

Other contributors to maternal mortality include inequities in prenatal care and during childbirth: only 46% of pregnant women living in rural areas have four prenatal visits, compared with 74% of women in urban areas. Poor, indigenous, and Afro-descendant populations have lower healthcare coverage and poorer quality of health care as well as higher maternal mortality ratios.

The action plan approved today calls for implementing proven interventions for reducing maternal mortality, particularly unrestricted access to preconception, prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum care provided by skilled personnel. In addition to working with ministries of health, the plan calls for strengthening partnerships including the Regional Working Group for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (GTR) and similar partnerships with scientific associations, academic groups, and civil society organizations.

Specific measures proposed in the five-year plan include:

  • Increasing contraceptive coverage and availability of family planning counseling prior to conception and after an obstetric event; 
  • Providing access to affordable, high-quality care during the preconception, prenatal, childbirth, and post-partum stages, by level of maternal and perinatal care;
  • Implementing measures for the prevention and detection of family violence during pregnancy;  
  • Increasing the availability of skilled health workers for preconception, prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum care in basic and emergency obstetric units;
  • Increasing the 24-hour availability of staff to attend births and handle obstetric complications;
  • Instituting and consolidating perinatal and maternal information and monitoring systems; and
  • Establishing committees to analyze and address maternal mortality, with community participation.

We know there's been progress, but we also know from the statistics we have at the regional level that we still have a lot of work to do," said Dr. Gina Tambini, PAHO Area Manager for Family and Community Health. "That's why we have worked for the last six months to identify where there are gaps and to mobilize the necessary efforts and resources.

PAHO was established in 1902 and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).


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Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2011 11:28

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