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Fewer women dying in childbirth

Published:Monday | May 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM


Every two minutes, a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications, the four most common causes being severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion. Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries; most could have been prevented with proven interventions.

However, there is good news. The number of women dying of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in 20 years, according to new estimates released last week by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank.

"I am very pleased to see that the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth continues to decline. This shows that the enhanced effort of countries, supported by UNFPA and other development partners, is paying off. But we can't stop here. Our work must continue to make every pregnancy wanted and every childbirth safe," said Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA. The report Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010, shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 - a decline of 47 per cent. While substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries, particularly in subSaharan Africa, will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing maternal death by 75 per cent from 1990 to 2015.

"We know exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise. These interventions have proven to save lives and accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal 5," said Osotimehin.

Disparity exists within and across countries and regions. One-third of all maternal deaths occurs in just two countries - in 2010, almost 20 per cent of deaths (56,000) were in India and 14 per cent (40,000) were in Nigeria. Of the 40 countries with the world's highest rates of maternal death, 36 are in subSaharan Africa.

Similarly, Eastern Asia, which made the greatest progress in preventing maternal deaths, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84 per cent as opposed to only 22 per cent in subSaharan Africa, a region that has the highest rates of maternal death.

Lack contraceptives

"Over a quarter of a million women still die in pregnancy and childbirth each year, and more than 215 million women lack access to modern contraceptives. Meeting the need for voluntary family planning for these women would not only fulfil a human right, it would also reduce the number of maternal deaths by a third. This is a highly cost-effective public-health strategy," said Osotimehin.

An important challenge that makes it difficult to assess progress accurately is the lack of reliable information about maternal deaths. In many developing countries, deaths may go uncounted and frequently the cause is not recorded correctly, particularly when women die at home. This has been accounted for in the current analyses of estimates.

"These new estimates demonstrate how maternal health is progressing globally and how the quality of data is improving. This also shows how the UN works together to improve the situation for women and girls around the world," said Osotimehin.