1120 GMT January 23, 2018
A companion paper in PLOS ONE illustrates the situation in Tanzania where less than a third (30.5 percent) of births occur in places with safe water and basic sanitation. In 2013, one in 44 women in the country faced dying in childbirth in their lifetime.
Women face a similar level of risk in many developing countries.
Globally, an estimated 289,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth in 2013, a number which researchers say can be more rapidly reduced through better provision and monitoring of safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene to prevent infection and improve care.
Some 38 percent of healthcare facilities in 54 low-income countries are without an improved water source, according to a forthcoming survey, leaving doctors, nurses and midwives struggling to care for their patients.
Sixteen researchers representing WaterAid, World Health Organization, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Aberdeen and The SoapBox Collaboration, BRAC and BRAC University, and Evidence for Action authored the flagship paper.
The paper is themed, “From joint thinking to joint action: A call to action on improving water, sanitation and hygiene for maternal and newborn health.”
Yael Velleman, senior policy analyst, sanitation and health, at WaterAid, said, "We have known since Victorian times about the importance of clean water and good hygiene in birth. Yet today tens of thousands of mothers will be giving birth in places where doctors and midwives, if present, do not have access to clean water. The process of giving life should not mean unduly risking death."
In 2000, the United Nations set out eight Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015, forming a blueprint for development.
There is progress on a goal to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters. Last year, 210 mothers died out of every 100,000 live births – a decline of 45 percent from 1990. But the maternal mortality ratio in developing regions remains 14 times higher than in developed regions.
Newborn mortality is particularly difficult to address. Fewer children under five are dying, from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. But the proportion of newborn deaths is increasing.
In 2013, 45 percent of deaths of under fives occurred in the first month of life, according to the WHO.
The goal on sanitation is among the most off-track. WaterAid analysis shows Sub-Saharan Africa will not reach its goal, to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation, for 150 years, at present rates of progress.
The UN is now negotiating a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to pick up from 2015.
WaterAid joins partner organizations in calling for a standalone goal on universal access to water and sanitation in homes, healthcare settings and schools; and the inclusion of water, sanitation and hygiene targets into goals for improving maternal and newborn health.