The United Nations Population Fund says that more than 500,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes that are almost entirely preventable.
A new report says investing in women's health would help save lives and reduce global poverty.
The United Nations Population Fund says that in the developing world, almost 530,000 women each year die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth--one every minute. For every woman who dies, it says that millions more suffer serious injury or disability.
Maria Jose Alcala, author of the new UN report, says most maternal deaths are preventable through universal access to health services. "Women continue to die and suffer because they are poor, because they are female, and because they don't have access to reproductive health services, to life-saving care that we take for granted in wealthier countries. This is morally and ethically indefensible."
The report says major reductions in numbers of deaths have taken place in countries with low to moderate levels of maternal mortality. Yet little progress has been made in the past two decades in countries where maternal mortality is high.
The report adds that reproductive health problems, including HIV and AIDS, are a leading cause of death and illness in women aged 15 to 44. In the worst affected countries of Africa, there are as many as three young women with HIV for each young man with the virus.
Ms. Alcala says gender inequality is to blame for many of the problems. Women continue to face discrimination in finding decent jobs, securing equal pay for equal work and obtaining access to loans. "The report calls for putting women at the top of priorities instead of at the bottom, as is often the case. Women are key to development. In most families, they are breadwinners; in many, they are the sole providers for family survival."
The report argues that investing in gender equality, reproductive health, and young people will not only save lives, but help reduce global poverty.