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Maternal mortality in the world in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals

Published 10 March 2023 in Facts and figures

Worldwide, a woman dies every 2 minutes during pregnancy or childbirth.


Maternal death is defined as any death resulting from complications related to pregnancy, childbirth, occurring while the woman is pregnant or within six weeks after the end of the pregnancy. The main causes of these deaths are : severe hemorrhage, high blood pressure, pregnancy-related infections, complications of unsafe abortion, and preexisting medical conditions that may be aggravated by pregnancy (such as HIV/AIDS and malaria).


The most recent report from the WHO estimated 287,000 maternal deaths in 2020, slightly lower than the 309,000 deaths in 2016.




In most regions of the world, maternal mortality rates have tended to stagnate between 2015 and 2020. They increased in two regions, North America (+17%) and Latin America/the Caribbean (+15%), and in contrast decreased in most regions of Africa and South Asia. In general, in the least developed countries, the rate decreased by about 15 percent between 2015 and 2020

Overall, the global maternal mortality ratio decreased by 34% between 2000 and 2020





In total numbers, however, maternal deaths remain concentrated in the world’s poorest regions and countries affected by conflict : about 70 percent of all maternal deaths in 2020 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

Chad, South Sudan, and Nigeria are the three countries with the highest mortality rates. 

West/Central Africa has always had the highest death rate, despite a 19 % decrease between 2000 and 2020. In 2020, however, this rate remains three times higher than the global average (724 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 223 at the global level).




The main causes of maternal deaths are underfunded primary health care, lack of skilled health providers, supply chain inefficiencies, and stock-outs of medical supplies. The latest WHO estimates indicate that one-third of the world’s women do not receive at least four of the eight recommended antenatal examinations or essential postnatal care.

Target 3.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals on maternal deaths aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, while this ratio was estimated at 223 in 2020. Progress in some parts of the world shows that it can be reduced, but additional investments are needed to strengthen health systems, improve access to high-quality care, and to train health workers to prevent and treat pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Without these efforts, the lives of more than one million additional women will be at risk by 2030, even though the vast majority of these deaths are preventable.


Visit this link to read the full Focus 2030 Women’s Rights Special Edition.