Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Pregnancy and childbirth can be a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but it can also be one of the most challenging.

At worst, it’s heartbreaking.

Every day 830 women and 7,000 newborns around the world die from preventable life-threatening conditions and complications.

Almost all these deaths have occurred in developing countries, where healthcare services are dire or conflict is rife.

Many of these deaths occur in rural and remote regions, and are preventable with better access to clean and safe equipment, medication, and well-trained health workers who can provide immediate support and advice, or referrals, to women when needed.

World Health Organisation data shows the most common complications – accounting for 75% of maternal deaths – include: severe bleeding (usually after childbirth); infections (usually after childbirth); high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia); complications during delivery; unsafe abortions; and diseases such as malaria and AIDS.

The biggest killers of newborns include prematurity, complications during birth, or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis.

So where are the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant and give birth?


This south Asian nation, sandwiched between war-torn Afghanistan and bustling India, has long been marred by political, social and economic challenges, including gender inequality, terrorism and conflict, poverty, and illiteracy.

Women comprise more than half of the nation’s population, but have far fewer rights and opportunities than their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.

The World Bank data shows about 60% of households are in regional or rural areas, where there is no or little access to healthcare services, support and advice, making pregnant women and their newborns one of the most vulnerable sectors of society.

According to UNICEF, Pakistan’s newborn mortality rate is the worst in the world, at 45.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the rate in Australia is 2.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Neonatal sepsis and infections, pre-term birth complications, birth asphyxia and birth trauma make up the top 10 causes of deaths in the country, according to the World Health Organisation.

Sierra Leone

This minerals-rich nation, well known for its diamonds trade, on the African west coast is one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant.

According to the most recent UN data, Sierra Leone has the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, at 1,360 deaths per 100, 000 babies born. This is equivalent to eight maternal deaths a day.

It’s estimated up to 6% of women in Sierra Leone will die as a result of maternal causes, such as severe bleeding, sepsis and hypertension, during their reproductive life.

Like Pakistan, war and conflict has long marred development in Sierra Leone. Poverty is widespread and it’s estimated about 60% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Between 2014 and 2016 the nation – along with its neighbours, Liberia and Guinea – also faced the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The epidemic killed more than 11,000 people.

A long history of poverty, disease and conflict has taken a toll on Sierra Leone’s health and prosperity.

Across the country quality healthcare services and workers are few and far between, impacting the most vulnerable members of society – pregnant women and their babies.

The ongoing food crisis, which the United Nations described as the worst humanitarian emergency since World War II, has put Africa front and centre in our newsfeeds.

Unfortunately, it often takes extreme and tragic events for the rest of the world to turn its attention to what is happening in the world’s second-largest continent.

High levels of poverty are still experienced by far too many children and families in a number of African countries. But focusing solely on these problems can lead to outdated stereotypes that all children in Africa are “poor kids” living in traditional huts. This is not an accurate reflection – the reality is far more complex, and far more interesting.

So here are a few facts that might just change the way you think about Africa, and it’s place in our global neighbourhood.

Four out of five people in Africa have a mobile phone

It is a common stereotype that children in Africa have no access to modern technology. That’s not true – currently, around 80% have mobile phones.

In Kenya, the statistics are even higher with nine out of ten people owning a mobile phone. But this is still in stark contrast to the fact that one in two houses does not have adequate sanitation and the average school has only one toilet for every 100 children. This can lead to the outbreak of disease, many of which are particularly deadly for young children.