1. Background

The Issue: Maternal Mortality

Living in America, we often forget how dangerous giving birth is in many other parts of the world. In fact, according to the UN, 1,000 woman die every day because of complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. Moreover, the developing world accounts for 99% of these deaths. Though giving birth is one of the most basic processes of life, it is inherently dangerous for many women all over the world. 

Maternal Mortality: The Statistics

  • The risk of a woman dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth during her lifetime, particularly in developing regions, is one in six (The Lancet).
  • Approximately 529,000 maternal deaths occur each year (The Lancet).
  • Most prevalent throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia
  • The maternal mortality ratio is expressed as the number of deaths per 100,000 live births (The Lancet) :
    • The maternal mortality ratio in the developed world: 9
    • The maternal mortality ratio in Latin America: 190

Maternal Mortality: The Causes

  • Hemorrhage and hypertension account for over half of all maternal deaths (UN MDGs).
  • Indirect causes such as HIV/AIDS and malaria account for 18% of maternal deaths (UN MDGs).
  • Lack of access to adequate skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth (UN MDGs).
  • The majority of maternal deaths are AVOIDABLE (UN MDGs).

Maternal Mortality: The Response

  • According to 2005 statistics, in 56 of the 89 high priority countries where 98% of the maternal deaths occur, the mortality ratio exceeds 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
  • No region has achieved the annual decline of 5.5% required to achieve MDG 5, and in sub-Saharan Africa—the region where maternal mortality is the highest—the maternal mortality ratio has only decreased by .1% (WHO).

The Solution: Mobile Phones

The Information Technology Explosion: Africa

  • Mobile phones are leading the technological revolution in Africa where mobile phone usage has increased by nearly 550% between 2003 and 2008 (The Guardian).
  • By the end of 2008, nearly 1/3 of the African population had a mobile phone subscription, and the mobile phone operator MTN estimates that it will achieve an 80% penetration in its 15 African markets by 2012 (The Guardian).
  • Nearly 42% of sub-Saharan Africa is covered by a mobile signal (The Guardian).
  • The Gabon, the Seychelles, and South Africa have reported a 100% mobile penetration rate (The Guardian).
  • In addition to using mobile phones for conventional communication, many Africans use them to transfer money, or check market prices for popular farm goods.
  • In Rwanda, the NGO “Phones-for-Health” enables health workers to submit critical health information to central computer systems through their mobile phones and allow service providers to view, analyze and respond to the data.
  • In West Africa, TradeNet connects buyers and sellers through SMS and provides crucial crop information and market prices to better focus farmers’ production on demand and concrete data.

The Information Technology Explosion: Latin America

  • Latin America is the world’s second largest market for mobile devices where 530 million mobile connections represent 11% of the world’s global users, surpassing Western Europe.

  • Mobile phone penetration, as of 2009, was approximately 80% in Latin America and the Caribbean, well above the world’s average of 58%.

  • Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela have all passed the 100% penetration threshold. 

  • In 2009 Argentina, an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) funded project in Argentina launched a mobile-phone based navigation system for public transport to provide the visually impaired appropriate directions.

  • In 2008, global telecommunications company Telefonica partnered with the IADB to provide a mobile-based banking system and improve financial access for the 65% population in Latin America with limited, or no, access to financial services.

  • The HealthWatch program in Peru enables immediate real-time information to be exchanged via mobile phones between remote health posts, medical experts and regional hospitals to decrease the rate of maternal and infant mortality in rural areas.

  • For further information, check out UN Watch.