The reduction of women mortality — the number of maternal deaths per one lakh live births — is still an area of concern for governments across the globe.

In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development recommended that maternal mortality be reduced by at least 50 per cent of the 1990 levels by 2000, and further one half by 2015.

As part of its millennium development goals, the United Nations has set the target of 200 maternal deaths per one lakh of live births by 2007 and 109 by 2015.

The latest census shows that Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have not only achieved the target but have also brought down the ratio to less than 109 per one lakh live births. Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Haryana are close to the target. India's maternal mortality ratio is 212 while that of Orissa is 258.

Over 80 per cent of maternal deaths in India, as elsewhere in the world, are due to six causes: haemorrhage; Eclampsia (an acute and life-threatening complication of pregnancy); obstructed labour; sepsis (blood poisoning); complications arising out of unsafe abortions; and pre-existing conditions such as anaemia and malaria. Most of these can be treated in hospital or a first referral unit endowed with emergency facilities and skilled personnel.

The underlying causes include the low quality of health systems and socio-economic and biological causes that obstruct and underplay the importance of women's healthcare.

Ten-fifteen per cent of all pregnancies result in emergency, which may happen to any woman, rich or poor, rural or urban. However, a woman's social status can make all the difference. Women may need the Caesarean section and blood transfusion, which require complex skills, facilities and logistical support that are found only in hospital. And for many in India, these services are not available.