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Child and Maternal Mortality High in Developing Countries of Asia

Families around the world celebrate Mother's Day Sunday. But being a mother can be difficult in the developing countries of Asia, where many children die soon after their birth, or before they reach the age of five.

In developing countries, childbirth is often a life and death struggle for both mothers and children.

The charity, Save the Children, says more than four million infants worldwide die in their first month of life each year, mostly due to infections. A third of the deaths occur in Southeast Asia. South Asia has the highest rates of newborn deaths in the world, next to Africa. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, up to six percent of infants die in their first month.

Many women also do not survive complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Amy Weissman, a health expert for Save the Children in Vietnam, says the mothers most at risk are young, uneducated women who give birth at home, without the help of skilled professionals.

"The things that really make a difference around a woman's survival are her level of education, her access to quality health care and her use of modern family planning," said Weissman. "So, those things really need to be in place for a woman and her child to survive and thrive."

Children who survive the first few weeks are still at risk in many developing countries of Asia.

The World Health Organization says about 3,000 children under the age of five die each day in the western Pacific region. Most of the countries with a high child mortality rate spend less than five percent of their gross domestic product on health.

Marianna Trias, advisor on child health at the WHO regional office in Manila, says common diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhea, cause most childhood deaths. In some countries, Laos and Cambodia, for instance, malaria is a major killer.

She says tools that can save children's lives, such as immunizations, nutritional supplements and insecticide-treated bed nets, are well known and inexpensive.

"But what is needed is the infrastructure, the human resources and financial resources to put this all in place and deliver the life-saving interventions through the health system," explained Trias.

Trias says some countries in the region have made good progress in recent years on reducing the number of childhood deaths. They include China, Mongolia, Vietnam and the Philippines, where governments have implemented plans to improve child and maternal health.