Semi-Frequently Asked Questions
I’m pretty sure I know what maternal mortality is. What’s specifically counted, though?
The most commonly-used measure is the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR), which looks at how many women die from pregnancy-related causes between conception and 42 days post-birth/post-termination. It’s expressed in the format “xxx deaths per 100,000 live births.”
Which is good; when a metric is expressed as every 100,000 of something, that means that it occurs infrequently – in some areas. But not in others.
Maternal deaths are highly clustered – as in, 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. Below is a chart showing the countries with the highest MMRs, with the United States – at 21 (which is high for the developed world) – for comparison. So, some countries have figured it out then, right? “We have the technology,” and all that. What’s going on?
It’s complicated. One the one hand, yes – we have a remarkable understanding of how to prevent and treat the major direct causes of maternal mortality, provided that preventing and treating the major direct causes is done in a developed country. Pretty circular logic, right? Developed countries have lower maternal mortality rates because they are developed countries.
But think about what a developed country has that a less-developed country may not. Established, taken-for-granted road networks that allow women to get from their home to their antenatal visits or to the nearest hospital to give birth. A supply chain buttressed with funding and technology to track supply and demand in real time. Enough trained, (relatively) well-paid midwives, nurses, and doctors to attend to all of the women that come to the hospital to give birth. Women who know that if they go to a hospital, they’ll be taken care of by trained, (relatively) well-paid midwives, nurses, and doctors.
Have the efforts of developing countries paid off?
It seems they have. A lot of countries, Uganda included, have had real success in reducing maternal mortality in the last ten years. Economic growth has something to do with this, as more money in the government coffers should lead to increases in health spending.
So does the increased focus on it as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of commitments agreed to by all United Nations member countries in 2000 – we hope, anyway. To get up to speed on maternal mortality as it relates to the MDGs, start here
The most recent modeled estimate for Uganda is that there are 310 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, down from 530 in 2000 and 600 in 1990.
Where else can I go for more information on Uganda and maternal mortality?
For a good, short overview of the Uganda health care system, this is a good article to begin with.
Links to articles that discuss maternal mortality in Uganda, which I’ll try to update with some regularity:
- A New York Times article from 2011: Maternal Deaths Focus Harsh Light on Uganda
- An innovative use of boda bodas to save mothers’ lives: BodAmbulances as Emergency Transport for Rural Ugandan Mothers
- The report that found that, for every foreign aid dollar allocated to health, governments spent $0.43 less on health care: Financing Global Health 2010