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Most nations, except US, making progress against maternal & child deaths

The Lancet, IHME

Two studies published today in The Lancet, both of them led by researchers at the University of Washington, report a sharp decline in maternal mortality and child deaths worldwide since 1990.

The United States, as USA Today also notes, joins Afghanistan and El Salvador as one of eight nations where these positive trends don’t apply.

While the number of deaths related to childbirth is lower in the U.S. than in most poor countries, the richest country in the world is still belongs in the same category as developing nations when it comes to maternal mortality trending.

The US was one of only a few countries (all the others poor or in turmoil) where maternal death rates increased in the past decade. The USA Today article quotes the lead author on why:

The continued rise in the United States may reflect “the performance of the health system as a whole,” and “poorer access to essential health care,” compared with other developed countries, says study author Nicholas Kassebaum at the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. It also may reflect health problems in U.S. women, Kassebaum says.

Reducing maternal and child mortality rates worldwide have been two key goals of the international development agenda. Overall, as The Lancet studies show, the world has made great progress on this front.

The studies say more than 45 countries appear ‘on track’ to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 of reducing child deaths by two-thirds and 16 countries are expected to meet MDG 5, reducing maternal mortality by two-thirds, also by next year. The international community is currently debating what goals to set for the post-2015 era.

“The fact that we are seeing faster declines in child and maternal deaths in so many countries worldwide shows that international consensus around a framework like the MDGs focuses action and makes a difference,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME. “As the world looks to 2015 and sets the post-MDG agenda, our findings provide a close look at what is working and point to where greater attention is needed to continue improving in maternal and child survival.”

Richard Horton, editor at The Lancet, noted that the study on child deaths shows one troubling area of no progress – neonatal death rates. While more children under 5-years-old are surviving, Horton noted that death rates of newborns have not improved to the same extent.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.