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1 maternal or newborn death happens every 7 seconds, WHO report finds

Global progress in reducing deaths during pregnancy has flatlined since 2015, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.

The report shows that over 4.5 million women and babies die every year during pregnancy, childbirth or the first weeks after birth, which is equivalent to one death every seven seconds. 

These deaths are mostly from "preventable or treatable causes if proper care was available," the United Nations agency added in a press release Tuesday on the findings. 

"Pregnant women and newborns continue to die at unacceptably high rates worldwide, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created further setbacks to providing them with the healthcare they need," Dr. Anshu Banerjee, director of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and ageing at WHO, said in the release. 

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization points to rising poverty and worsening humanitarian crises as added pressures to already stretched health systems.

As survival rates have stagnated over the last 8 years, the report estimates there have been:

  • 290,000 maternal deaths each year
  • 1.9 million stillbirths (babies who die after 28 weeks of pregnancy)
  • and 2.3 million newborn deaths (deaths in the first month of life)

"If we wish to see different results, we must do things differently," Banerjee says. "More and smarter investments in primary healthcare are needed now so that every woman and baby - no matter where they live - has the best chance of health and survival."

In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1,200 U.S. women died during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth, according to a report released in March by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marking a six-decade high. That number fell to an estimated 733 in 2022, according to preliminary numbers.

The number of U.S. women who die during or shortly after childbirth is higher than any other developed nation, particularly among women of color. 

Determining the cause of that racial disparity poses "essentially one of the biggest challenges of public health," Dr. Henning Tiemeier, the director of Harvard's Maternal Health Task Force, said in an interview on "Face the Nation" in July 2022.

"We see that as a top of the iceberg of poor health in women and poor health in Black women," Tiemeier said at the time. "And there are several reasons, there seems to (be), from poverty to discrimination to poor care for this group of women."

Tiemeier noted that most of these deaths are "preventable."

According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births — roughly 2.9 times the rate among non-Hispanic White women.

— Mikayla Denault contributed to this report. 

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