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The key to cutting the maternal death rate by a third

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A study concluded that the maternal death rate worldwide could be cut by about 30%, thereby saving the lives of 104,000 women.

A new study has concluded that providing contraception to women in need of it in developing countries would cut the global maternal mortality rate by almost one third.

The study, published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is reinvigorating the push to combat maternal deaths, an issue that has been overshadowed in recent years by the fight against AIDS and ideological battles.

The study was published last week just before an international conference organized by the British Government and the Gates Foundation, during which 20 developing countries committed to help deliver contraceptives to an additional 120 million women and girls, which is estimated to cost $4.3 billion.

This represents a new influx of cash to an issue that, in 1995, represented 55% of international population assistance, but by 2008 comprised only 6% of such funding. (Spending on HIV/AIDS accounted for 74% of such funding in 2008.)

The study

Using maternal mortality and survey data from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, the researchers estimated that 342,200 women died of maternal causes in 2008. The researchers, of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, also concluded that contraception prevented an additional 272,000 maternal deaths.

Finally, they estimated that another 104,000 maternal deaths a year could be averted by providing contraception to women who want it but don't have access to it.

The study states that birth control reduces maternal mortality for several reasons:

  • It delays first pregnancies, which are especially risky in very young women
  • It reduces the number of unsafe abortions, which are responsible for 13% of all maternal deaths in developing countries
  • It cuts the number of pregnancies that are too closely spaced to each other in the same mother

The researchers acknowledged a wekaness in their study: that records of maternal mortality in developing countries could be unreliable.

Melinda Gates has pushed to cut the number of maternal deaths, saying in April:

Somewhere along the way we got confused by our own conversation and we stopped trying to save these lives. We're not talking about abortion. We're not talking about population control. What I'm talking about is giving women the power to save their lives.

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via: The New York Times

photo: hdptcar/Flickr

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure