A new report by the World Health Organizations says millions of young women and children die in developing countries because they have no access to basic health services. The report was released Thursday, with the WHO calling on countries to focus more attention on maternal and child health.
The World Health Organization says nearly 11 million children under five die from simple infections such as measles and diarrhea every year. Many of these children die when they are just weeks old. Half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth.
Joy Phumaphi, a WHO assistant director general, says these statistics are "staggering" because most of the deaths can be easily prevented.
"The problem right now globally is that we have reached an era in development where we can actually save a lot of lives with interventions that are simple and that are affordable," she explained. "We lose them to infections that we know how to treat."
Among the major causes of maternal and child death are malaria, respiratory infections and unsafe birthing conditions.
The WHO says India, China and Pakistan and several African countries account for more than half the total maternal and child deaths.
The report is calling on these countries to make massive investments in pre- and post-natal care. It says developing countries must deploy more health professionals in rural areas, where births take place without a skilled attendant. The WHO wants aid groups and religious organizations to be involved with governments in the effort to save the lives of mothers and children.
One key, according to the report, is making sure women have a skilled medical attendant when they give birth.
Ms. Phumaphi says while maternal and child health is showing signs of improving in several Asian countries, it is worsening in several African countries devastated by AIDS epidemic.
"We have seen 29 countries which have stagnated, most of them in Africa, and 14 countries in Africa that have actually regressed primarily because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," she said. "This epidemic has actually damaged considerably the health services that were previously provided to mothers and children to the extent that this particular vulnerable group … is also losing in other areas."
The WHO report estimates that an extra nine billion dollars in health care aid is needed annually for the next decade to help countries significantly cut maternal and child deaths.
Ms. Phumaphi calls the report a "clarion call" to the international community and national political leaders to take action to improve the health of the world's women and their children.