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Jun 1, 2009
New survey studies maternal mortality and abortion in Ghana

Accra, Ghana. One in five deaths among Ghanaian women age 15 to 29 is due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth according to a newly released national study, Ghana Maternal Health Survey 2007. Nationwide, Ghana’s maternal mortality ratio is estimated at 451 deaths per 100,000 live births in the seven years preceding the survey, about 40 times the maternal mortality ratio in the United States. Induced abortion is the second most common cause of maternal deaths in Ghana.

Overall, 14 percent of deaths among women age 12-49 are due to maternal causes. One quarter of maternal deaths are due to hemorrhage, a common complication of childbirth that can be easily prevented with proper medical care. One in nine maternal deaths is abortion-related. For deaths among women 15-19, more than a quarter are due to induced abortion.

More than one in seven Ghanaian women has had an abortion in her lifetime, according to the new survey. One in three of these women have had more than one abortion. While abortion is legal in Ghana under certain conditions, only 4 percent of women interviewed know this. About 12 percent of women say they are able to get an abortion if they wanted one.

Almost one-third of abortions take place in the woman’s home, and 30 percent are performed by a pharmacist, traditional practitioner, or relative/friend. The principal reasons women cited for having an abortion are not enough money to take care of the baby, wanting to delay childrearing, and wanting to continue schooling.

Increasing women’s access to health services is a major factor in decreasing maternal mortality. While the majority of women receive antenatal care, 45 percent of births still occur at home and only 55 percent are assisted by a skilled provider, making it difficult for women to receive the care they need in case of complications.

Preventing unplanned pregnancies can reduce unsafe abortions and maternal deaths, especially among young women. Overall, only 14 percent of Ghanaian women age 15 to 49 use a modern method of family planning; this rate has increased only slightly since 1998.

The 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey is the first national population-based survey to collect information on maternal health and mortality in Ghana through a combination of methods: household questionnaires in about 240,000 households to identify female deaths, individual questionnaires administered to 10,370 women about maternity care particularly abortion and miscarriage, and siblings (sisterhood method), and follow-on 4,200 verbal autopsies into the specific causes of female deaths, particularly maternal deaths.  

The 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey was jointly implemented by the Ghana Statistical Service and the Ghana Health Service of the Ministry of Health. ICF Macro, (formerly Macro International Inc.), provided technical assistance to the survey. Funding for the survey was provided by an anonymous donor.