Algeria: What it's doing right for its mothers, and what it still needs to do

Every day, 396 African women die due to pregnancy-related complications and causes (WHO). Maternal mortality is an ongoing struggle and it can become easy to be disheartened by the apparent lack of progress being made in maternal health. Regardless, there is still hope. Algeria, a country in North Africa, has reported a 50 percent decrease in maternal mortality in the past few decades. According to the United Populations Fund (UNFPA), maternal deaths have decreased from 523,000 in 1990 to 289,000 in recent years. What did Algeria do differently for its mothers, and why did it work?

The Algerian government started investing much more money in the health sector and in human resources, greatly easing the strain that overburdened and understaffed health centers and hospitals were experiencing. It spends more than $100 per capita on health – a generous amount compared to Tanzania and Uganda’s $15 per capita (WHO). Investing human resources for the health sector allowed for the establishment of disease detection programs, the improvement of existing healthcare services, and a reform of the healthcare system. How did these help mothers survive? The creation of multiple health services decreased disease incidence rates and put fewer mothers at risk of contracting diseases during pregnancy. As a result, mothers were healthier when giving birth, which greatly improved their survival chances.

At the 68th General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Minister of Health of Geneva, Population and Hospital Reform Abdelmalek Boudiaf praised Algeria’s efforts: “Algeria’s investments in the health sector have allowed meeting many challenges and achieving promising results in terms of health indicators.”

Algeria might have slashed its maternal mortality rate in half, but the battle isn’t over just yet. Progress in maternal mortality is tracked by the fifth millennium development goal (MDG) established by the United Nations: “To reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio” and “[to] achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health” ( If Algeria is to achieve the fifth MDG, it needs to grant wider access to sexual and reproductive health services for young women, instead of stigmatizing the need for antenatal and postnatal care and education.

Antenatal and postnatal care are so important in increasing a mother’s chance of survival. A 2009 study found that 95.3% of births are attended in Algeria, yet mortality is still high because of poorly trained healthcare staff and a lack of antenatal care being provided to the mother. Without proper antenatal care, early identification of health risks to the mother can be missed and become life-threatening later on. Eclampsia, one such pregnancy condition, manifests itself as regular pregnancy pains but if not caught in time, can cause uncontrollable bleeding and seizures in the mother. 79% of mothers receive postnatal care in Algeria, but we need to question how often they visit the hospital after delivery, how long they wait to visit the hospital after delivery, and whether they were examined by qualified nurses and doctors.

The most important thing to consider when it comes to fighting maternal mortality and analyzing what works and what doesn’t, is whether there is a bridge between policy and on-the-ground implementation. There is no doubt that the Algerian government is taking steps to reduce mortality, but the sustained high mortality levels hint that more needs to be done than just throwing money at the problem. Pregnant mothers are dying unnecessarily, and Algeria needs to figure out what it’s still not doing right.


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