A United Nations study finds that women in sub-Saharan Africa are 175-times more likely to die in childbirth than women in developed regions. Researchers found that in sub-Saharan Africa, one in 16 women is likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth, compared with one in 2,800 in developed nations.
Three U.N. agencies -- the World Health Organization, the Children's Fund and the Population Fund -- studied estimated maternal death rates for the year 2000.
United Nations Population Fund researcher Stan Bernstein says the vast majority of the more than half-a-million deaths worldwide were avoidable. He adds, the most critical needs are the assistance of a skilled health worker during pregnancy and delivery, access to emergency medical care and information on voluntary birth control. "It is absolutely essential, [in order] to save women's lives, to give higher priority to these concerns, and to make the necessary investments, both internationally and within countries, to make sure that women have access to trained birth attendants, so that they can get emergency care when complications develop, and they can choose the spacing of their children," he says.
Mr. Bernstein says the United Nations has found that delays in recognizing complications, reaching medical facilities and receiving good quality care contribute to maternal mortality.
Worldwide, 13 developing countries accounted for 70 percent of all maternal deaths. The highest number occurred in India, where 136,000 women died, but the highest ratio of deaths to live births was found in African nations such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo and Angola. The Population Fund's Mr. Bernstein notes the high number of maternal deaths has a devastating impact on society. "It increases the number of orphans, decreases the prospects for children's lives. It makes it more difficult to make progress from gender equality," he says. "In fact, it is an indicator of low progress in gender equality that women's lives are, as it were, almost expendable, because of the lack of attention that is given to see this is a priority investment."
In 2000, world leaders agreed in their U.N. Millennium Development Goals to reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters by the year 2015.