India has made significant strides in maternal health over the past several decades, reducingits maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from 556 to 174 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births from1990 to 2015 (World Bank 2016a). Policies and initiatives to increase access to maternal healthservices largely account for this progress. However, the rate of improvement has slowed, and thecountry continues to contribute almost one-quarter of maternal deaths globally (Nair 2011). Inaddition, India is home to a high but difficult to measure rate of so-called near-miss maternaldeaths that often lead to maternal morbidity. Although the incidence of maternal morbidity inIndia is largely unknown due to the country's lack of diagnoses and under-reporting, it isestimated that millions of Indian women experience pregnancy-related morbidity; the GlobalBurden of Disease estimates that India contributes one-fifth of the disability-adjusted life yearslost globally due to maternal health conditions (World Health Organization 2008). These patternssuggest there is still progress to be made in maternal health in India.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation seeks to continue its more than 20-year history supporting population and reproductive health in India and accelerate the country'sadvancement in maternal health. It has chosen to fund a three-and-a-half-year grantmakingstrategy to improve maternal health quality of care, which has emerged as a key means to furtherreduce MMR and related outcomes. This review is intended to describe current issues andinterventions in the delivery of maternal health care and provide a backdrop for the Foundation'sgrantmaking effort.