For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth, to about 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980.
The findings challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.
The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates; higher income; more education; and more “skilled attendants” to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the death rates.
The new study was based on more and better data, and more sophisticated statistical methods than were used in a previous analysis by a different research team that estimated more deaths, 535,900 in 2005.
Six countries accounted for more than half of all the maternal deaths in 2008: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But India has made progress and that has helped to decrease the worldwide rate of deaths.