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Maternal mortality is the most off-track of the Millennium Development Goals and progress on maternal and neonatal mortality in most African countries has stalled. Approximately 50% of all maternal deaths worldwide occur in sub-Saharan Africa with national rates of neonatal mortality the highest in this region.
There is a 1 in 13 lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth for women in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 1 in 4100 in industrialised countries. The region also has the highest maternal mortality ratio among developing regions at 640 deaths per 100,000 live births. There has been little progress on reducing neonatal deaths in Africa, with the smallest reduction in rates (1%/year) globally between 1990 and 2009.
Slow progress in reducing maternal and newborn mortality is linked to weak political commitment and weak accountability, both underpinned by lack of data. Maternal mortality reduction in countries across the world has always been associated with increased political focus and use of good data. In Africa, where data is generated it is often not in an accessible form for policy makers and advocates. Accountability mechanisms are usually not strong.