© Shiho Fukada/Panos
06 Sep 17 08 Jan 20

Maternal health

Many women across the world give birth without medical assistance.

This massively increasing the risk of complications or death. Ninety nine percent of these deaths are in developing countries. The majority are preventable with appropriate care.

We work with midwives and traditional birth attendants to establish programmes so complicated births can be identified quickly to help prevent maternal deaths.

"Obstetrics in Sierra Leone, as I’m sure is the case in many developing countries, is a far removal from the world I have trained and worked in,” says Benjamin Black, a UK obstetrician working in Sierra Leone, in his MSF blog.

“There is little in the way of antenatal care, nearly no-one has had an ultrasound scan, there’s no proper foetal monitoring and presentations are often complicated and late.

“The aim of care here is ultimately to keep mothers alive and avoid putting a scar on their uterus (caesarean section), as you don’t know where they will deliver next time."

Hover over the image below for an interactive guide to maternal health:


What causes maternal death?

The most common complications causing maternal death, accounting for nearly 75 percent of all maternal deaths, are:

  • postpartum haemorrhage
  • infection
  • eclampsia
  • complications from delivery
  • unsafe abortion

Postpartum haemorrhage

Excessive bleeding, or postpartum haemorrhage, can happen following a complicated delivery.

Often it is caused by uterine atony, the inability of the uterus to contract. Normally after delivery the contraction of the uterus should stop the bleeding that occurs after separation of the placenta. Due to reasons like an incomplete separation of the placenta, uterine atony occurs and bleeding continues.

A woman can lose half a litre of blood in one minute and bleed to death rapidly unless action is taken quickly to stop the bleeding.