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As Mamma Sessay lay on the delivery table, minutes after giving birth to her second twin, a pool of blood formed on the tiles beneath her. “I am going to die,” she said repeatedly, a look of terror on her face as the blood drained from her body. At Magburaka government hospital, there was only one doctor available for the entire province, and he was in surgery.

The midwives propped up Sessay, mopped the floor, then took her blood pressure before she died from postpartum hemorrhage in less than an hour. Mamma Sessay lost her life in 2010, and in that year in Sierra Leone, an average of five women died in childbirth every day. And Sierra Leone is not an isolated case; in other developing nations such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Chad, India, and Haiti, women are perishing at a collective rate of more than 500,000 a year, mostly because of inadequate access to medical facilities and lack of proper perinatal care. It may be a problem of transportation or poor roads to reach professional medical services, but often the professional medical practitioners do not even have the basic equipment and medication needed to diagnose and treat common complications such as preeclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage and septicemia.
With high teenage pregnancy rates in many countries, there are complications as the girls’ bodies are not physically mature enough to give birth. Whatever the cause, whatever the country, between 60 and 70% of maternal deaths are preventable.


I had witnessed Mamma Sessay die, literally through my lens, and could scarcely believe that something so basic as childbirth could kill hundreds of thousands of women every year. I vowed to dedicate time to maternal death around the world, and over the past decade, have covered the subject in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, India, Haiti, the Philippines, the United States, and Somaliland.

Today, with awareness raising and efforts by the international community, the maternal mortality rate has declined by approximately 40% since 1990 according to the World Health Organization. This is the case for all countries in the developed world, with the exception of the United States and Serbia which, tragically, have both seen maternal death rates increase. Many people today have no idea that the natural human events of pregnancy and childbirth can still be fatal for large numbers of women. It is a basic human right for pregnant women to have access to proper healthcare services and perinatal care.

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario

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