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UN, World Bank Report Decries Slow Progress in Stemming Maternal Deaths


A new report sponsored by the United Nations and the World Bank says progress has been slow at reducing the number of deaths worldwide from pregnancy and childbirth. The report says more than one-half million women a year continue to die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. It says 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The report finds there has been a slight drop in the rate of global maternal mortality between 1990 and 2005. But, it says the annual decline of less than one percent is too slow to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters before 2015.

The report was sponsored by the U.N. World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund, the U.N. Population Fund and the World Bank.

Paul Van Look is Director of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization. He tells VOA the gap between rich and poor countries is vast. He says in 2005, 450 women out of 100,000 died in childbirth in developing countries compared to nine in developed regions.

"A woman in Northern Europe, because they may only have say two or three pregnancies, the risk that such a woman will die during her lifetime from conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth is very low indeed," he explained. "It may be one in 10,000, one in 20,000. There are countries - and currently the one that is probably worst is Niger - where in fact the risk that a woman dies during her lifetime in pregnancy and childbirth is in the region of one in eight."

The report says no region has achieved the annual decline of 5.5 percent in maternal mortality needed to reach the Millennium Development Goal.

It says eastern Asia has come closest to meeting the target with a 4.2 percent annual decline, while northern Africa, south-eastern Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean have also experienced declines.

But the report says sub-Saharan Africa has made virtually no progress over the past 15 years. Dr. Van Look says hundreds of thousands of African women continue to die because they are poor.

He says poor women do not have the means to go to health services and they cannot afford to have a skilled health care provider help them with their delivery. "The other important factor is that the health system itself that needs to take care of pregnant women during their pregnancies and at the time of delivery and particularly also when there are complications that require, say a caesarian section or a blood transfusion or whatever, that health system in sub-Saharan Africa is very weak," he added.

The World Health Organization says it is unconscionable that women are still dying in the 21st century from pregnancy and childbirth. It says access to family planning, prevention of unplanned pregnancies and high quality care are some measures that can reduce maternal mortality.

It says women who are educated and empowered to make their own decisions regarding their health care have a better chance of staying alive.