The percentage of women who die from childbirth has decreased significantly worldwide since 1990, but health officials said the rate still needs to come down further.

The latest statistics show that maternal mortality has dropped worldwide by 44 percent in the past 25 years. In 1990, the rate was 385 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Today, it’s estimated to be 216 per 100,000 live births.

Maternal Mortality

The United States’ maternal mortality rate is well below that average, but the U.S. rate has ticked up slightly since 1990 and is still higher than many developed countries.

The report was issued today by the World Health Organization (WHO), several United Nations agencies, and the World Bank Group. It was published in The Lancet.

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Africa Improves but Still Has High Rate

Overall, health officials estimate that 303,000 women will die this year from childbirth. That compares to 532,000 in 1990.

Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 6 weeks of giving birth.

Sub-Saharan Africa saw its maternal mortality rate drop by 45 percent in the past quarter-century, falling from 987 to 546 deaths per 100,000 births. However, that is still well more than double the global average of 216 deaths per 100,000 births. The region, in fact, accounts for two out of every three childbirth deaths worldwide.

The region showing the greatest improvement was Eastern Asia, where the maternal mortality rate fell from 95 deaths to 27 deaths per 100,000 births. That’s a 72 percent decrease.

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U.S. Rate Has Risen

The report stated that in the developed world the maternal mortality rate has dropped 48 percent since 1990 from 23 deaths to 12 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The United States, however, has a slightly higher rate than that average.

The report listed the U.S. mortality rate this year at 14 deaths per 100,000 births. That is up from 12 deaths per 100,000 births in 1990.

The United States is one of only 13 countries to see an increase in its maternal mortality rate since 1990. The others include North Korea and Zimbabwe.

The United States’ current rate is also double that of its neighbor to the north, Canada. At 7 deaths per 100,000 births, Canada’s maternal mortality rate has not changed since 1990.

Mexico has a maternal mortality rate of 38 deaths per 100,000 births, down from 90 per 100,000 in 1990.

Great Britain’s rate is 9 deaths per 100,000 births, down from 10 in 1990. France has 8 deaths per 100,000 births, down from 15 in 1990.

The Russian Federation is listed at 25 deaths per 100,000 births, down from 63 per 100,000 in 1990.

By comparison, Denmark has 6 deaths per 100,000 births (down from 11), while Sweden has 4 deaths per 100,000 births (down from 8).

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Striving for Lower Numbers

U.N. officials credited the overall drop in maternal mortality to better access to high-quality health services for expectant mothers around the world.

They said the essential health interventions include good hygiene to lower the risk of infection, reducing conditions such as hypertension during pregnancy, and ensuring access to reproductive health and family planning services for women.

“The education of women and girls, in particular the most marginalized, is key to their survival and that of their children,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta in a statement. “Education provides them with the knowledge to challenge traditional practices that endanger them and their children.”

Nonetheless, U.N. officials said they want to do more. They set a goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate worldwide to nearly zero by 2030.

To do that, U.N. officials said they need to expand education programs and raise the number of health workers with midwifery skills, especially in developing areas.

“If we don’t make a big push now, in 2030 we’ll be faced, once again, with a missed target for reducing maternal deaths,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in a statement.