• This report also in French and Spanish.

(August 2000) Nearly 600,000 women around the world die of pregnancy-related causes each year. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in less developed countries. Many of these deaths could be prevented, however, if increased awareness of the problem leads to appropriate interventions.

A woman’s lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications or during childbirth is one in 48 in the less developed world, versus only one in 1,800 in the developed world. The risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is highest in Africa, both because African women have more children than women on other continents and because risks are greater with each pregnancy. Because of Asia’s much larger population, however, each year the majority of maternal deaths take place there.

Interventions can improve the chances of women’s survival and can also save many of the 3 million to 4 million babies who die annually in the first month of life. Existing health services have contributed to dramatic declines in infant deaths over the past 30 years, but there is little evidence that maternal deaths have decreased. The majority of complications that cause maternal deaths cannot be averted simply by improving women’s overall health or nutritional status.