Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health further estimate that satisfying the global unmet need for contraception could reduce maternal deaths an additional 30 percent.
“Promotion of contraceptive use is an effective primary prevention strategy for reducing maternal mortality in developing countries. Our findings reinforce the need to accelerate access to contraception in countries with a low prevalence of contraceptive use where gains in maternal mortality prevention could be greatest,” Saifuddin Ahmed, lead author of the study, said.
“Vaccination prevents child mortality; contraception prevents maternal mortality,” he said.
For the study, the Johns Hopkins researchers used a counterfactual modelling approach to replicate the World Health Organization’s (WHO) maternal mortality estimation method, and to estimate maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use in 172 countries.
Data for the analysis were drawn from the WHO database for maternal mortality estimation, survey data for contraceptive use and information on births, female population aged 15 to 49 years and general fertility rates from the United Nations World Population Prospects database, 2010.
According to the authors, worldwide use of contraception averted 272,000 maternal deaths, or 38 deaths per 100,000 women using contraception.
The estimate is equivalent to a 44 percent reduction in maternal deaths worldwide.
The decline in deaths for individual countries ranged from 7 percent to as high as 61 percent.
The study authors further estimated that in the absence of contraceptive use the number of maternal deaths would be 1.8 times higher for the study period.
“Unwanted fertility and unmet contraceptive need are still high in many developing countries, and women are repeatedly exposed to life-threatening pregnancy complications that could be avoided with access to effective contraception. This study demonstrates how use of contraception is a substantial and effective primary prevention strategy for reducing maternal mortality, especially in low-income countries,” Amy Tsui, senior author of the study, said.
Their study has been published by The Lancet as part of a series of articles on family planning.