Over half a million women worldwide die every year in
pregnancy or childbirth—largely from preventable causes. In the developing world, pregnancy
remains the leading killer of women
in their reproductive years. And
for young girls between the age of 15 and 19, their chance of dying in
childbirth is twice that of their peers in their 20’s. In order for countries and donors to
address global priorities like poverty eradication, HIV cessation, and economic
growth, strong political will to improve the sexual and reproductive health of
women is paramount.
PAI’s new report, A
Measure of Survival: Calculating Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Risk, ranks 130 developing and developed countries according to sexual and
reproductive risk. The report,
released last week during the Women Deliver conference in London,
illustrates the harsh reality of being a poor woman in a poor country.
A Measure of
Survival documents the continuing stark disparities in reproductive risk
between wealthy countries and poor ones.
Niger, Chad, Mali, Yemen and Ethiopia are among the countries where women
are at the highest sexual and reproductive health risk. For many, a skilled
attendant at childbirth can make the difference between life and death. In Ethiopia, which has the lowest rate
of births attended by a skilled health personnel, 90 to 95 percent of women
deliver at home and are two or more hours away from a health facility. Unsurprisingly, maternal death and
infant mortality rates in Ethiopia are both needlessly high.
Overall, the number of women who die from pregnancy-related
causes is over 250 times higher in developing countries than in developed
countries. Even more astonishing,
these deaths are largely preventable.
In fact, voluntary family planning programs can reduce the number of
maternal deaths by reducing unwanted pregnancies and preventing women from
seeking often-unsafe abortion.
Ten years after publishing these rankings for the first time,
the story still has the same grim ending: Women are dying needlessly. We should be long past the point of
measuring the well-being of women in 18th century terms—by their
chance of survival. By investing in
women and their health now, we can help save lives. Only then will we begin to measure
women’s well-being in terms of the number of girls in school, the number of
women in the workforce, and the number of women and children who are