Success Story: Reducing Maternal Death in Eritrea

Eritrea is one of  four African countries to meet MDG5 by reducing maternal mortality rates from 1400 deaths per 100,000 births to 350
Eritrea is one of four African countries to meet MDG5 by reducing maternal mortality rates from 1400 deaths per 100,000 births to 350


In the market town of Senafe, in southern Eritrea, Fethawi Berhane has just undergone three days of painful labor and complications during childbirth that resulted in the death of her baby, despite the best efforts of a traditional birth attendant. Fethawi herself is lucky to have survived, given the unhygienic and poorly equipped medical conditions in which she had to give birth.

Fethawi’s case is not unique in Eritrea, which once had the highest maternal mortality rates in the world (about 1400 deaths per 100,000 births). The main contributor to this troublesome rate was the high incidence of obstructed labor.

The rural nature of Eritrea, with its poor communication and transportation infrastructure, particularly in outlying areas, has caused 80 percent of deliveries to take place without a physician or trained midwife present.

Today, however, Eritrea is one of the four African countries said to be on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 on Maternal Health, which calls for countries to reduce their maternal mortality rate by three quarters by 2015. For Eritrea, this will mean attaining a rate of less than 350 deaths per 100,000 births.

This drastic positive change has come about through the concerted programmes and persistent efforts of the Government of the State of Eritrea, in partnership with UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and UNDP.

These programmes and efforts have led to intensified maternal health campaigns that have provided information about, and increased awareness of, maternal issues in the country. They have also conducted local-language training sessions in rural areas to improve traditional birth attendants’ delivery skills and better prepare them for difficult labor.

Thanks to these efforts, each community in Eritrea now has fully-trained maternal care givers and expectant mothers living far from medical centers do not have to risk their lives travelling long distances while in labor. Instead, trained birth attendants visit them in their homes before and after delivery to provide medical assistance and ensure that both mother and baby are in good health.

Additional funding in the amount of US$88 million will be required in the next four years to ensure universal coverage of maternal and neonatal health intervention in Eritrea. Such assurances will provide hope to women like Fethawi Berhane, for whom childbirth will no longer be a matter of life or death.

Horn Nations Maternal Mortality Rate (Per 100,000) Percentage Change 
 Eritrea 1400 in 1991 and 280 in 2008* 80% reduction 
 Ethiopia 900 in 1991 and 470 in 2008 52% reduction
 Sudan 830 in 1991 and 750 in 2008 9.6% reduction
 Somalia Unknown in 1991 and 1200 in 2008 N/A

Source: World Health Organization     * 2008 is the latest complete data published by WHO
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