Click here for search results

Resources For

New Plan to Help Poor Countries Prevent Mothers’ and Children’s Deaths

  • Plan will help countries reduce high fertility rates and deaths.
  • More than 350,000 women die each year because of pregnancy and childbirth complications.
  • With approaching MDGs deadline, plan charts Bank’s course for next five years.

May 12, 2010— With many countries far from achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) and less than five years remaining to scale up efforts, yesterday, the World Bank released a 2010-2015 blueprint for its reproductive health work, which will help poor countries reduce their high fertility rates and prevent the widespread deaths of mothers and children.


More than 350,000 women die each year because of pregnancy and childbirth complications—with 99 percent of these deaths in developing countries.Gambia1


“A mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth is not just a human tragedy. It's also an economic and social catastrophe that deprives her surviving children of nurture and nutrition and too often of the chance of education,” says Julian Schweitzer, Acting Vice President of Human Development at the World Bank. “Maternal deaths are both caused by poverty and are a cause of it. The costs of childbirth are often the single biggest cause of casting a family into poverty. And, if the mother dies in childbirth, the chances of her baby surviving the first year of life are drastically reduced.”


Moreover, many poor women turn to abortion as a last-resort means of birth control. Some 68,000 women die each year as a result of unsafe abortion, while another 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability.


In endorsing its Reproductive Health Action Plan 2010-2015, the Bank warned that family planning and other reproductive health programs that are vital to poor women had fallen off the development radars of many low-income countries, donor governments, and aid agencies.


More Aid, Less for Population and Reproductive Health


Sri_Lanka_Mother_with_infantAlthough development aid for health has increased—from US $2.9 billion in 1995 to US $14.1 billion in 2007—aid for population and reproductive health increased more modestly during the same period, from US $901 million in 1995 to US $1.9 billion in 2007.


With 2010 marking the start of the five-year countdown to the 2015 MDGs, many countries are far from achieving MDG 5, which calls for a drop in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015 and increased access to universal reproductive health care by 2015. Against this target, the current global average rate of reduction is under 1 percent; at the present rate of progress, the world will fall well short of achieving MDG 5.


How the Bank Will Help Close the Gap


Bank health financing in FY10 is expected to triple to an unprecedented US $4.1 billion―a 40 percent increase over the previous year’s record― in support of stronger health systems; boosting the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases; and imprMother with newbornoving child and maternal health, hygiene, and sanitation.  


The Bank has been working closely with governments, aid donors and agencies, and other partners to strengthen countries’ health systems so that women gain significantly better access to quality family planning and other reproductive health services, skilled midwives at their births, emergency obstetric care, and postnatal care for mothers and newborns.


Under its new plan, the Bank will help 58 countries with high maternal death and fertility rates improve their reproductive health systems in the following ways:


More ContraceptionThe first step to avoid maternal deaths is to ensure that women have access to modern contraceptives and the ability to plan their families.


More Frequent Antenatal VisitsWomen who continue pregnancies need care during this critical period for their and their babies’ health.


Spread Preventive KnowledgeMost maternal deaths are avoidable, and the health care solutions to prevent or manage the complications are well-known.


Train New Health WorkersAn important way to strengthen health systems is to train new health workers and strengthen the skills of the existing health workers with midwifery skills and effectively deploy them.


Education: An Important Piece of the Puzzle


High birth rates are closely allied with fragile health, little or no education, and entrenched poverty. Analysis of demographic and health surveys in all regions shows that women with secondary or higher education have fewer children than women with primary or no education.


“Promoting girls’ and women’s education and the opportunity to succeed are just as important in reducing birth rates in the long run as promoting contraception and family planning,” says Dr. Sadia Chowdhury, co-author of the new plan and a Senior Reproductive and Child Health Specialist at the World Bank. “Education and greater gender equity become a form of social contraception for women. Time and time again we see how women’s education  provides life-saving knowledge, builds job skills that allow her to join the workforce and marry later in life, gives her the power to say how many children she wants and when—and these are enduring qualities she will hand down to her daughters as well.”


By Phil Hay and Melanie Mayhew, HDN


To view the press release, click here.

To read the new Reproductive Health Action Plan 2010-2015, click here.

For more on the Bank’s Health, Nutrition, and Population work, please visit:


Permanent URL for this page: