Maternal and Infant Health

Mother & Child, Kyon Da village, Myanmar, 2009. Source: UN Photo/Mark Garten
Mother & Child, Kyon Da village, Myanmar, 2009. Source: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Nature of Setting

Maternal mortality refers to the death of women during pregnancy, childbirth, or in the 42 days after delivery.  In 2011, there were an estimated 273,465 such deaths.  Maternal deaths are preventable.  Due to their better healthcare systems, just 1% of these deaths (~2,693) occurred in developed countries.  Developing countries accounted for 99% of these preventable deaths. Although the world has made progress in solving this problem (maternal mortality was 409,100 in 1990), it is well behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goal 5 of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths between 1990 and 2015. 

Infant mortality refers to death in children from birth to less than 5 years.  In 2011, there were 7.18 million such deaths, most of which were preventable.  Developed countries accounted for 1.4% (99,200) of these deaths and the remaining 98.6% (7.08 million) were in developing countries.  These numbers reflect progress in reducing infant mortality worldwide over the years but it is not enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing it by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Within developing countries, these two types of mortalities tend to be mainly among low-income earners who cannot afford safe, good quality medical care in their country, even if it is available.  Low-income earners are typically the majority of the population in developing countries.  And the incidence tends to be higher in rural areas and small towns which usually lack adequate healthcare infrastructure or it may be entirely absent. 

Problem Solvers in This Space

Through the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, 189 nations are part of the global effort to reduce infant and maternal mortality. 

Through its many initiatives in global health and global development, the Gates Foundation is working on this and related big problems. 

LifeSpring Hospital in Hyderabad, India, is a rare for-profit hospital that provides good quality, affordable maternity care to low-income women.  The women cannot afford private hospitals that provide safety and good quality treatment but are unaffordable to the majority of the population.  The free hospitals run by the government offer poor quality.  Some women prefer to give birth at home which raises the risk of mortality.  Through its novel for-profit business model, LifeSpring provides essential services to a neglected population.  It is a model that needs to be replicated. 

Edna Adan Hospital, Somaliland

Sources of Information

  • The Millennium Development Goals portal has a breadth of data on MDG-4 (infant mortality) and MDG-5 (maternal mortality). 
  • The source of the numbers above is an article in The Lancet’s September 24, 2011 issue (vol. 378, no. 9797, pp. 1139-1165) written by Rafael Lozano and others. 
  • United Nations Population Fund: safe motherhood, improving reproductive health