Click here for search results

Safe Motherhood and Maternal Health

Addressing maternal health means ensuring that all women receive the care they need to be safe and healthy throughout pregnancy and childbirth. Safe motherhood encompasses social and cultural factors, as well as addresses health systems and health policy. Indicators used to measure maternal health include skilled attendance at birth, contraceptive prevalence rates and maternal mortality and morbidity. Improving maternal health is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals, and great efforts have been put forth to achieve that goal. However, much work has yet to be done to assure maternal health for women worldwide.


Improving the health of mothers

Over a decade of research and experience in addressing maternal health has made it clear that safe motherhood initiatives are cost-effective, ensuring high social and economic returns at low cost.  Interventions to improve maternal health are also feasible, even in poor settings. 

The potential benefits are substantial:

·           Investments in safe motherhood not only improve women’s health and the health of her family, but also increase the labor supply, productive capacity and economic well-being of communities, ultimately having a positive impact on the economy.

·           Unwanted or unplanned pregnancies can interfere with women’s social and economic activities and cause emotional and economic hardship not only to women but also to their families.

·           Children whose mothers die or are disabled in childbearing have drastically diminished prospects of leading a productive life.

·           The burden on women associated with frequent pregnancies, poor maternal health, pregnancy complications, and caring for sick children drains their productive energy, jeopardizes their income-earning capacity, and contributes to their poverty.


Safe Motherhood Initiative

In 1987 the World Bank, in collaboration with WHO and UNFPA, sponsored the Safe Motherhood Conference in Nairobi. The launch of the Safe Motherhood Initiative (SMI) was seen as a major milestone in the race to reduce the burden of maternal mortality throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. It issued a call to action to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity by one half by the year 2000. It also gave birth to the Inter-Agency Group (IAG) for Safe Motherhood, under whose auspices this meeting has been organized.All events that make pregnancy unsafe, irrespective of the gestation or outcome, are part and parcel of safe motherhood. Subsequent work on Safe Motherhood by the Inter-Agency Group and others have outlined clear strategies and specified interventions for the reduction of maternal morbidity and mortality, often referred to as the Pillars of Safe Motherhood.

Pillars of Safe Motherhood

The Safe Motherhood Initiative is a worldwide effort that aims to increase attention to and reduce the devastating numbers of women that suffer death or serious illness every year.    Making motherhood safe for the world’s women calls for national governments, funding agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to make maternal health an urgent health priority and to ensure that the necessary political and financial support is dedicated to this effort.     


In order to reduce life-threatening risks and reduce mortality, good-quality maternal health services by trained health workers must be available and must be used.   Therefore, safe motherhood strategies must be comprehensive in nature; even when quality health services are available, other limiting factors can get in the way of women using these services, such as social, economic and cultural factors.


Safe motherhood programs emphasize addressing all of these issues as well as other reproductive health issues, such as sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancy, obstetric fistula, and female genital cutting (FGC).


More information about the the Safe Motherhood Initiative can be found at: