The wide gap in maternal mortality ratios worldwide indicates major inequities in the levels of risk women face during pregnancy. Two priority strategies have emerged among safe motherhood advocates: increasing the quality of emergency obstetric care facilities and deploying skilled birth attendants. The training of traditional birth attendants, a strategy employed in the 1970s and 1980s, is no longer considered a best practice. However, inadequate access to emergency obstetric care and skilled birth attendants means women living in remote areas continue to die in large numbers from preventable maternal causes. This paper outlines an intervention to address the leading direct cause of maternal mortality, postpartum haemorrhage. The potential for saving maternal lives might increase if community-based birth attendants, women themselves, or other community members could be trained to use misoprostol to prevent postpartum haemorrhage. The growing body of evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of misoprostol for this indication raises the question: if achievement of the fifth Millennium Development Goal is truly a priority, why can policy makers and women’s health advocates not see that misoprostol distribution at the community level might have life-saving benefits that outweigh risks?
Although maternal mortality is a significant global health issue, achievements in mortality decline to date have been inadequate. A review of the interventions targeted at maternal mortality reduction demonstrates that most developing countries face tremendous challenges in the implementation of these interventions, including the availability of unreliable data and the shortage in human and financial resources, as well as limited political commitment. Examples from developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Honduras, demonstrate that maternal mortality will decline when appropriate strategies are in place. Such achievable strategies need to include redoubled commitments on the part of local, national and global political bodies, concrete investments in high-yield and cost-effective interventions and the delegation of some clinical tasks from higher-level healthcare providers to mid- or lower-level healthcare providers, as well as improved health-management information systems.