Maternal Mortality Reduction as an International Human Right

By Rachel Walden — June 24, 2009

Maternal mortality and morbidity is a large problem worldwide, and one we’ve written about here in various contexts in the past. According to the World Health Organization, 1,500 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications every day, mostly in developing countries, and most of these deaths are avoidable.

In an attempt to focus international attention on this problem, The United Nations Human Rights Council included in its recent session a resolution on maternal mortality and morbidity.  According to the agency’s press release the resolution calls for the following:

  • a study on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity, including identification of human rights aspect
  • an overview of initiatives and activities within the United Nations system to address all causes of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity
  • identification of how the Human Rights Council can add to existing efforts by providing human rights analysis, including efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal on improving maternal health
  • recommended options for better addressing the human rights dimension of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity throughout the United Nations system.

In a joint release responding to the resolution, the Center for Reproductive Rights notes that “This is a groundbreaking step towards ensuring every woman’s basic human right to a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth. Governments should heed the call of the Human Rights Council and take urgent action to prevent women from dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth.”

A representative of Action Canada for Population and Development quoted for the release described the importance of the resolution thusly: “By supporting this resolution, governments have affirmed the right of women and girls to receive care before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth, and to survive these experiences without illness or disability.”

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