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Many Maternal, Infant Deaths Preventable Using Low-Tech Methods

Despite data showing sharp declines in maternal mortality, half a million women still die every year in childbirth. In addition, three and a half million newborns die within the first 30 days of life. There's an effort to save these lives with proven maternal and childcare techniques.

To become a mother in Niger means a woman risks her life. A Save the Children Fund report shows that one in seven Nigerian women dies during childbirth.

And every minute and a half, another mother dies giving birth somewhere in the world. But the World Health Organization has a program to change that by 2015.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo is part of that effort. She spoke from VOA's New York bureau. "We have the knowledge for saving the lives of women and children. We have very tested and proven interventions," she said.

For example, in most sub-Saharan African countries, the U.N. Children's Fund says more than half the deliveries take place at home, with no skilled birth attendant present.

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine conducted a study that shows that by training local birth attendants in a method promoted by the World Health Organization, the number of still births was reduced by about 30 percent.

Dr. Bustreo says even better, India has seen a 75 percent increase in the number of women going to a birthing facility.

The government pays the women to go there.

"Every woman should have access to care in a health facility where there is (are) personnel that are skilled and can provide the care she needs and the baby needs," Dr. Bustreo said.

The interventions can be as simple as keeping the newborn warm. Or by making sure pregnant women have enough nourishing food to eat.

That will reduce the number of underweight babies that are born.

"The important part is that these treatments and interventions need to be provided as a continuum," Dr. Bustreo said. "Starting from before the woman becomes pregnant, during the delivery, during the birth and continuing until the child is five years and older."

The World Health Organization has targeted 68 countries with the highest maternal, infant and child deaths.

Most of these countries are in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Bustreo and others have identified both the problems and the solutions. A report is due in June that is expected to show what progress has been made toward saving the lives of mothers, babies and children who do not need to die.