PAHO Director calls for action to reduce maternal mortality

Meeting to discuss zero preventable maternal deaths

Washington, DC, June 18, 2024 (PAHO) - The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Doctor Jarbas Barbosa, issued an urgent call to action to reduce maternal mortality in the Americas. In 2020, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced one maternal death every hour, reversing two decades of progress in maternal health indicators in the region.

“These figures not only indicate a worsening of outcomes but also a deepening of inequalities and depict unacceptable tragedies that in most cases could be preventable,” Dr. Barbosa said at the event "Zero Preventable Maternal Deaths," organized by PAHO on 18 June 2024.

“The number of deaths among pregnant women does not align with the level of development of this region,” the PAHO Director said, emphasizing the urgent need to tackle this discrepancy.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of the region's health infrastructures, exacerbating inequalities in access to health services, with a particular impact on women. The maternal mortality ratio increased by 15% between 2016 and 2020.

However, even before the pandemic, the maternal mortality ratio in the Americas showed signs of stagnation, driving the region away from achieving set targets and commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sustainable Health Agenda for the Americas.

According to PAHO's Basic Health Indicators, updated in 2023, over 90% of women receive at least four prenatal visits; about 97% of births take place in health facilities, and over 96% are attended by qualified personnel. Additionally, coverage of sexual and reproductive health services exceeds 80%. “We need to examine why this investment does not translate into better outcomes,” Barbosa emphasized.

The PAHO Director noted that multiple factors influence maternal mortality, including socioeconomic, cultural, educational, and environmental aspects. To address these challenges, Dr. Barbosa urged the implementation of strategies that include interventions to address situations of vulnerability and "gender norms and roles."

“The health sector must be a transformative agent for change,” Barbosa said, highlighting that nine out of ten maternal deaths could be avoided through universal access to quality maternal care and modern contraceptive methods, among other resources.

“Expanding health systems based on Primary Health Care to ensure universal health access and coverage could a the critical factor to reduce maternal mortality in the Region.”

The PAHO Strategy to Accelerate the Reduction of Maternal Mortality provides an action framework to be adapted to each country and context, with complementary and integrated actions. Barbosa called on countries to prioritize this issue and commit to implementing the strategy, focusing action at the local level, especially for women living in the most vulnerable conditions.

“Our countries must provide the necessary resources for action, mobilizing all sectors, including academia, civil society, and the most impacted communities,” he added.