Health Research Program

Since 1990, the world has seen a dramatic 44 percent reduction in maternal mortality. Despite this progress maternal mortality remains an urgent health crisis in many low and middle income countries.

This pie chart displays the main causes of maternal death from a 2014 WHO systematic analysis

Every year, 99 percent of maternal deaths from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, or within 42 days of termination of the pregnancy, occur in developing countries.1 The major causes of death include bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, complications from delivery, and unsafe abortion. Simple interventions and skilled care before, during, and after childbirth can prevent many of these deaths.

USAID’s Health Research Program seeks to reduce maternal mortality by collaborating closely with partner countries, community programs, and health facilities to apply learnings from implementation research that address critical health needs. USAID designs interventions and determines how best to implement them in a given context. The study of the actual implementation process and outcomes – implementation research — forms the core of the Program’s work.

The Health Research Program focuses on implementation research related to illness recognition and care-seeking, respectful maternity care, and performance-based incentives for quality of care. For example, the Program has conducted studies to explore recognition of illnesses and care-seeking and referral patterns for both maternal and newborn complications, ultimately leading to policy changes that improve access to and quality of services. In addition, Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, and Nigeria integrated respectful maternity care (RMC) into national policy standards of maternal care and training of providers to decrease, and eventually eliminate, disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth.

To learn more about efforts to reduce maternal mortality, please visit USAID’s maternal health page.

1WHO Maternal Mortality Fact Sheet, updated November 2016