WHO says maternal mortality is a "silent emergency"

WHO says maternal mortality is a "silent emergency"

Harare, 5 October 2004-- Maternal mortality is a "silent emergency" claiming the lives of millions of African women and reversing otherwise impressive post-independence socioeconomic gains recorded in countries in the African Region, the World Health Organization Regional Office (AFRO) for Africa said on Tuesday.

"Every minute, one woman dies due to pregnancy- or child birth-related causes. This translates into 1,500 women dying everyday, or the equivalent of five 747 jumbo jets crashing daily and killing all passengers and crew"' said Dr Doyin Oluwole, Director of the Division of Family and Reproductive Health at AFRO.

Dr Oluwole told the ongoing third meeting of the African Reproductive Health Task Force in Harare that the rising tide of maternal and child death in Africa informed the development of "Road map for accelerating the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals related to maternal and newborn health."

The road map was jointly developed by WHO and 18 partners with an interest in improving maternal and child health in the Region.

She stated that although the road map outlined known solutions to known problems, it contained novel features such as: the involvement of stakeholders with an interest in maternal and child health in its development and in reaching consensus on the way forward; a focus on two major levels to make a difference (an accent on health facilities and community-level involvement); emphasis on emergency obstetric and newborn care; the inseparable dyad of mother and newborn; opportunities provided by the road map for harnessing resources from all partners; use of evidence-based, cost-effective and feasible interventions even in resource-poor settings; and emphasis on skilled attendance (skilled health workers, availability of drugs, supplies and an enabling environment).

She also outlined the objectives of the "road map" , strategies for its realization and priority interventions.

The general objective of the road map is the reduction, in the African Region, of the maternal mortality ratio by 75%, and of child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. Its specific objectives are the provision of skilled attendance during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-natal period at all levels of the health care delivery system; and the strengthening of the capacity of individuals, families and communities to improve maternal and newborn health.

The strategies for the attainment of the objectives of the road map include: 

  • Improving provision of, and access to, quality maternal and newborn care services, including family planning services; 
  • Strengthening the referral system; 
  • Strengthening district health planning and management of maternal and newborn health care and family planning services; 
  • Advocating for increased commitment and resources for maternal and newborn health care and family planning services; 
  • Fostering partnerships; 
  • Promoting the household to hospital continuum of care; 
  • Empowering communities.

Among the priority interventions proposed in the road map are:

  • Organizing country-level stakeholders' meeting to develop country-specific road maps; 
  • Establishment of a minimum package of maternal and newborn health care and family planning services including Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care; 
  • Assessment, development and putting in place of necessary resources; 
  • Establishment of mechanisms for financing poor women; 
  • Procurement and installation of appropriate communication equipment; 
  • Training providers an other resources persons in emergency response and preparedness 
  • Establishing community emergency committees; 
  • Building of District Health Management Teams, and strengthening their skills in programme management, monitoring and evaluation; 
  • Establishment and support of national maternal and newborn Day/Week; 
  • Coordination planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation of maternal and newborn health care and family planning services with key stakeholders.

For further information: 

Media contact:   Technical contact:

Samuel T. Ajibola

Tel: +47 241 39378

In Harare: 091 231 405

E-mail: ajibolas [at] afro.who.int


Dr Doyin Oluwole 

Director, Division of Family and Reproductive Health 

Tel: +47 241 39478

E-mail: oluwoled [at] afro.who.int