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UN, NGOs Raise Alarm Over Maternal Mortality


Every minute of every day a woman somewhere in the world dies in pregnancy or childbirth, say representatives from U.N. agencies and leading non-government organizations. That is too many, they say, and they plan to convene a global conference in October to develop and implement action plans for safe and accessible maternal health worldwide. In New York, Mona Ghuneim reports for VOA.

Jill Sheffield of Family Care International says in the United States, pregnancy and childbirth are viewed as fairly routine, uncomplicated procedures. But, the founder of the organization that works to ensure women have access to life-saving services says the risk of pregnancy varies widely, even in developed nations. For example, in the United States, one in every 2,500 women dies in pregnancy or childbirth. By contrast, one woman dies in every 30,000 pregnancies in Sweden.

In poorer countries, the average rate increases exponentially. Sheffield says that in sub-Saharan Africa, roughly one woman in every 16 dies of pregnancy or childbirth complications. She says maternal mortality is an urgent issue that affects every country, though some for additional reasons.

"In Afghanistan, one in seven women will die related to pregnancy and childbirth. Part of that one has to do a lot with her human rights, which are rapidly disappearing. She doesn't have access to care. She doesn't have freedom of movement. It's really difficult for women in Afghanistan," she said.

Sheffield says 40 percent of global pregnancies have some sort of difficulty and eight percent of all pregnancies have a life-threatening complication.

Kathy Bushkin Calvin of the United Nations Foundation calls the numbers alarming and unacceptable, especially in the United States where mostly women of color are affected. "It has as much to do with access to getting good care and treatment as it [does with] problems with your own pregnancy. And so you can imagine in this country, there are neighborhoods where that's as significant an issue as it is in rural Africa or India," she said.

The October conference in London is designed to increase awareness of maternal mortality and encourage action.

Safiye Cagar of the United Nations Population Fund says the conference will focus on what she calls "political will." She says the desire to help is not enough. Development programs need political and financial backing. "The governments come. They commit themselves during these international conferences and they say very nice words about improving maternal health or supporting gender equality, but implementation is poor," she said.

Cagar says women's concerns, which are still viewed as a "soft issue" throughout the world, must be taken seriously.

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