Worldwide, a reported 1,500 women die each day as a result of pregnancy-related causes. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Trends in Maternal Mortality” report, maternal mortality rates (MMR) worldwide have decreased, but remain a persistent public health concern. As noted in previous WHO reports on women’s health, medical staff and services, educational programs, and information pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth may be lacking in some areas. By ensuring that trained medical personnel are available, and that women are able to access pre- and postnatal care, MMR can be further reduced.
The number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy has decreased from 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008 with an estimated 99 percent of these deaths occurring in developing nations. Reports indicate that women in developing nations are 36 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than those in developed countries. Though rates vary within and between countries due to differences in income and between urban and rural populations, the average risk of maternal mortality in developing nations is one in 75, compared with one in 7,300 in developed areas. According to experts, most maternal deaths are avoidable, and are due to four major causes: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders, and unsafe abortions. In addition, approximately 20 percent of maternal deaths are due to indirect causes, including diseases that complicate pregnancy or are aggravated by it such as malaria, anemia, and HIV/AIDS.
Many of these deaths are due, at least in part, to a lack of trained medical personnel available to care for pregnant women and new mothers. WHO data show that less than two-thirds of women in developing countries receive assistance from a healthcare worker during childbirth. In addition to care during delivery, antenatal care is often limited in developing regions. In low- and middle-income countries approximately two-thirds of women have at least one antenatal visit, while in high-income nations nearly all women have at least four antenatal visits, receive postnatal care, and are attended by a midwife or doctor during childbirth. According to the WHO’s Colin Mathers, reducing the MMR worldwide will require countries, international organizations, and charities to collaborate to educate and train additional medical personnel to attend to pregnant women. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, has also stated that “No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care.”
In addition to ensuring that trained personnel are available locally, telemedicine initiatives such as the iConsult program may prove beneficial in lowering the MMR. By combining a software application and website, iConsult may enables healthcare providers in remote and medically underserved areas (Requestors) to receive free advice on difficult cases from medical specialists (Volunteers) including Obstetricians and other maternal and fetal health experts. This type of telemedicine program may be employed to improve health outcomes and lower maternal mortality rates in regions where the necessary personnel are not available.
Learn more about how you can participate in iConsult, the flagship program of iCons in Medicine