The Single Best Intervention: Thirty Years of Safe Motherhood

Over the last 30 years, the world has seen a 44 percent decrease in maternal mortality. At the same time, safe motherhood has evolved from an often neglected component of maternal and child health programs to a fundamental element of the global health agenda, leading to improved women’s health and rights. These advancements are, in large part, due to the 1987 establishment of the Safe Motherhood Initiative. To help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Safe Motherhood Initiative, Dot Mom asked leaders in the field to reflect on the most impactful intervention of last 30 years. Join us at the Wilson Center on Friday, December 8, 1-5 p.m., to discuss these interventions—and those to come in the next 30 years.

The greatest intervention for safe motherhood of the past 30 years is…

Reliable access to a mix of modern contraceptive methods: It has reduced the global burden of maternal mortality, improved women’s health and well-being, and enabled gains in women’s education, earnings, and quality of life. We need to ensure that all women have access to this life-saving intervention.

Mary-Ann Etiebet, Executive Director, Merck for Mothers

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): The global goals on maternal health mobilized resources and political will. While not perfect—for example, they were criticized for spurring a fragmented approach to health planning and paying insufficient attention to equity and empowerment—they were critical to driving political engagement and progress toward ending preventable deaths and promoting the highest attainable level of health for all mothers and babies. And the much broader framework of the SDGs rests firmly on these development principles, highlighting human rights and social determinants of health. 

Rima Jolivet, Maternal Health Technical Director, Maternal Health Task Force

The Safe Motherhood Initiative: It put maternal and perinatal mortality on the global agenda and without it, MDGs 4 and 5 would not have happened.  The Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Signal Functions, with appropriate indicators for the reduction of maternal mortality, have been incorporated into every health sector development plan in lower and middle income countries. Meeting the proxy indicator for maternal mortality reduction—the percentage of births covered by a skilled birth attendant by 2015—required a massive effort to increase not only the number, but also the quality of well-trained, skilled midwives, nurses, and doctors.

Barbara Kwast, International Consultant, Safe Motherhood and Maternal Health

Women’s increased demand for their rights to family planning and to quality and respectful care.

Betsy McCallon, Chief Executive Officer, White Ribbon Alliance

Increasing the number and quality of midwives, which has had a positive impact on maternal and neonatal health interventions over the years.

Address Malata, Vice Chancellor, Malawi University of Science and Technology

Prevention and management of unintended pregnancy: Most of the time—which is far too often—we assume that women dying from pregnancy-related complications wanted a child. Contraception plays a hugely important, but often unrecognized, role in preventing maternal mortality by preventing unwanted and unintended pregnancy. And safe abortion prevents women from dying from or being injured by unsafe procedures, which are sadly still prevalent in many parts of the world.

Ann Starrs, President and Chief Executive Officer, Guttmacher Institute


What do YOU think is the greatest intervention for safe motherhood in the past 30 years? Please leave a comment with your response, and tweet it at #MHDialogue.

Sources: MDG Monitor, The Safe Motherhood Initiative, PLOS One, The World Health Organization Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health

Photo Credit: USAID Africa