Current Status + Progress
Despite accelerated recent progress, millions of births occur annually without any assistance from a skilled attendant at birth

One critical strategy for reducing maternal morbidity and mortality is ensuring that every baby is delivered with the assistance of a skilled birth attendant which generally includes a medical doctor, nurse or midwife. Experts agree that the risk of stillbirth or death due to intrapartum–related complication can be reduced by about 20 percent with the presence of a skilled birth attendant. Reflecting its importance in reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, skilled birth attendance was included as indicator 3.1.2 under goal 3 and target 3.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

To improve maternal and newborn survival across all ages, skilled health personnel should be capable of handling normal deliveries safely. They must also be able to recognize warning signs for complications and refer mothers to emergency care. Non-skilled attendants, including traditional birth attendants, can neither predict nor appropriately manage serious complications such as haemorrhage or sepsis, which are the leading killers of mothers during and after childbirth.

Globally in 2016, about one in five births (22 per cent) take place without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant as coverage of skilled health attendant at birth rose from just over 60% in 2000 to nearly 80% in 2016. In 2016, this translated into nearly 31 million unattended births worldwide. Coverage of skilled birth attendance across regions ranges from 99 per cent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Western Europe to 52 per cent in West and Central Africa.

Despite substantial progress over the last two decades, inadequate or non-existent care during pregnancy and delivery was largely responsible for the annual deaths of an estimated 303,000 mothers and 2.7 million newborns in the first month of life in 2015. Indeed, roughly three quarters of all maternal deaths take place during delivery and in the immediate postpartum period.


Currently, the highest rates of early childbearing are found in sub-Saharan African countries, where birth rates among adolescents reach over 200 births per 1000 girls aged 15-19, compared to lower rates in other regions. It is important that girls in this vulnerable group receive the necessary care during antenatal period and delivery to ensure their wellbeing and that of their babies as well as education on family planning. See more


Despite progress made, large equity gaps remain, with the rural or the poorest population often left behind. Globally, approximately 67 per cent of births among rural mothers are attended by skilled health personnel, compared to about 90 percent of births among urban mothers. The urban rural gap remains at over 20 percentage points despite progress in the past 15 years.

Large disparities in delivery care are also observed across wealth quintiles. Globally, women in the richest 20 per cent of their countries’ population are about 2 times more likely than women in the poorest quintile to have a skilled birth attendant at delivery (90 per cent versus 46 per cent). Differences across wealth quintiles are largest in sub-Saharan Africa with the richest being 2.5 times more likely to deliver with the help of a skilled health provider than the poorest. This is especially in true in West and Central Africa where the richest 20 per cent of mothers are 3 times as likely to have a skilled birth attendance at delivery.


Monitoring deliveries in health facilities is essential to ensuring that women receive quality care and deliver in an environment that is prepared for an emergency. In many countries, particularly middle- and high-income countries, a large proportion of babies are delivered in health facilities. Delivery in a health facility increases access to appropriate equipment and supplies available on site or through immediate referral to a higher level facility. However it remains essential to also ensure that the delivery is carried out by skilled health personnel, capable of anticipating or detecting signs and symptoms of complications. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia (97 per cent), Western Europe (99 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (94 per cent) as well as East Asia and the Pacific (90 per cent) over 9 in 10 births occur in health facilities. In contrast, in sub-Saharan Africa where the burden of maternal and newborn deaths is highest, just over half of all births (56 per cent) are delivered in a health facility and the urban-rural gap is over 30 percentage points (78% vs. 46%) and the gap between women from the richest and poorest quintiles of their national populations is a staggering 51 percentage points (86% vs. 35%).


Caesarean section (C-section) can be a life-saving intervention and is an essential part of comprehensive emergency obstetric care. In places with no data on access to emergency case, C-section rates are generally considered as proxy for access to emergency obstetric care.

A C-section rate below 5 per cent suggests that some women who require this emergency procedure do not have access to it, which endangers their lives and those of their babies.  Globally, approximately 1 in 5 births are delivered via Caesarean section. However, there are significant regional differences with rates ranging from only 3 per cent in West and Central Africa up to 43 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Country estimates suggest that women in high burden countries especially in rural areas, lack access to this critical intervention at delivery. On the other hand, many countries have coverage exceeding 15 per cent, which suggests potential overuse of this procedure, exposing women to unnecessary risks associated with major surgery.

There are also substantial disparities within countries in rates of Caesarean section for women in urban and rural areas (28% vs. 12%). Similarly, women from the richest 20% of households in a country utilized Caesarean section delivery at a rate 3.5 times higher than women from the poorest 20% of households (25% vs. 7%).


UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2016, UNICEF, New York, 2016.

UNICEF, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – 2015, UNICEF, New York, 2015.

UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2011: Adolescence – An age of opportunity, UNICEF, New York, 2011.

WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, AMDD, Monitoring Emergency Obstetric Care – A handbook, 2009 revision, WHO, Geneva 2009.

WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015, WHO, Geneva, 2012.

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Maternal and newborn health coverage Download Data
UNICEF/WHO joint database on skilled attendance at birth Download Data
Recent Resources

Definition of skilled health personnel providing care during childbirth: the 2018 joint statement by WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, ICM, ICN, FIGO and IPA

Jun 13, 2018

This revised definition of skilled health personnel providing care during childbirth (also widely known as a “skilled birth attendants” or SBAs) addresses existing gaps between reported increases in SBAs and disproportionate maternal and neonatal mortality – with the aim of supporting the measurement requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Maternal and Newborn Health Disparities Country Profiles

Nov 22, 2016

These statistical profiles present current levels of key impact, service delivery and coverage interventions for mothers and newborns with a wide array of disaggregation including residence, household wealth, mother’s age, mother’s education and sub-regional levels.

Every Newborn Action Plan: Country Implementation Tracking Tool Guidance Note

Jun 1, 2016

The purpose of the tool is to track ENAP implementation and progress made by countries towards achieving the national milestones (table 1). Special emphasis is put on tracking processes in place to ensure ENAP is implemented. The tool is a pathway to inform countries and partners on progress and to facilitate provision of country technical support needed to scale up MNH programme.

Download the Guidance Note

Indicator and Monitoring Framework for the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health

May 1, 2016

This report presents the indicator and monitoring framework for the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, (2016-2030) focusing on its Survive, Thrive and Transform objectives and 17 targets. The report details the selection process for the indicators and implications for monitoring, measurement, investments and reporting.

Download the document

The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health

May 1, 2016

The Global Strategy (2016-2030) is a roadmap to achieve right to the highest attainable standard of health for all women, children and adolescents –to transform the future and ensure every newborn, mother and child not only survives, but thrives. The new Strategy – updated through a process of collaboration with stakeholders led by WHO – builds on the success of the 2010 Strategy and its Every Woman Every Child movement as a platform to accelerate the health-related Millennium Development Goals and puts women, children and adolescents at the heart of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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Pregnancy, Childbirth, Postpartum and Newborn Care: A Guide for Essential Practice

Dec 1, 2015

This revised guide brings a full range of updated evidence – based norms and standards that enable health care providers at the first health care level to provide high-quality, integrated care during pregnancy and childbirth and after birth, both for mothers and babies. This guide will support countries in their efforts to reach every woman and child and ensure that pregnancy, birth and the first postnatal weeks are the joyful and safe experience they should be. The guide will be updated periodically as new WHO recommendations become available.

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Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015

Nov 12, 2015

This summary presents new estimates of maternal mortality produced by the Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG) as part of global and country monitoring of the Millennium Development Goal five. The estimates for 1990 to 2015 presented in this summary are the eighth in a series of analyses by the MMEIG to examine global, regional and country progress in reducing maternal mortality.

Access the report (PDF) | Access the executive summary (PDF)

Strategies toward ending preventable maternal mortality

Feb 10, 2015

The Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM) targets and strategies are grounded in a human rights approach to maternal and newborn health, and focus on eliminating significant inequities that lead to disparities in access, quality and outcomes of care within and between countries. Concrete political commitments and financial investments by country governments and development partners are necessary to meet the targets and carry out the strategies for EPMM.

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Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed – Progress Report 2014

Sep 16, 2014

This report looks at causes of death and coverage of key interventions for mother and newborn and highlights initiatives by governments, civil society and the private sector to accelerate progress on child survival.

Download full report (PDF)
Notes on the Data

UNICEF – in collaboration with WHO – is the UN organization responsible for monitoring and reporting “Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel”, an official indicator for Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

SDG indicator Sustainable Development Goal Target
3.1.2: Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel (doctors, nurses, midwives)

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Target 3.1: By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births



The proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel as defined as the percentage of live births attended by skilled health personnel (doctors, nurses, midwives) during a specified time period, generally up to the past five years.


The indicator is computed as the number of live births attended by skilled health personnel (generally doctors, nurses or midwives) out of total number of live births in a specified reference period.


Standardization of the definition of skilled health personnel can be challenging on account of differences in training of health personnel across countries. Although efforts have been made to standardize the definitions of doctors, nurses, midwives (and in some cases, auxiliary midwives) used in most household surveys, it is likely that the abilities of many skilled attendants to provide appropriate care in an emergency depends on the environment in which they work. Additionally, this indicator is a measure of a health system’s ability to provide adequate care for pregnant women; however, concerns have been expressed that the presence of a skilled attendant may not adequately capture women’s access to good-quality care, particularly when complications arise, and that information on the supplies and equipment a skilled attendant may or may not have is lacking.


Since 2015, UNICEF and WHO have maintained a joint database on skilled attendant at birth. Joint estimates are published annually, released simultaneously in May by UNICEF and WHO in the State of the World’s Children report, and are available at and World Health Statistics (, respectively. As skilled attendance at delivery is an SDG indicator (3.1.2), databases and regional estimates are also provided for SDG data releases on an annual basis.