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Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone is 'Human Rights Emergency' Says Amnesty

The human rights group Amnesty International says the maternal health situation in Sierra Leone amounts to a human rights abuse. The small West African nation has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and is in desperate need of investment in healthcare for mothers.

One in eight women risk dying from pregnancy or childbirth in Sierra Leone, according to a new report released today by Amnesty International.

The group's Secretary General, Irene Khan, says this is a human rights emergency.

"In this country, one in eight women will die from pregnancy or childbirth-related reasons," said Khan. "These deaths are totally needless. They are preventable not inevitable."

The report says many women die before they reach a hospital because they are too poor to pay for health services or because they are too far from a clinic with adequate gynecological services. Less than one in five births occur in hospital in Sierra Leone, despite government promises to provide pregnant women with free healthcare.

Khan says these conditions deprive women of their right to life and health.

"Maternal deaths is a human rights issue," she said. "It is a human rights scandal because it is a violation of a woman's right to life, a woman's right to health, a woman's right to be treated equally. Because underlying this lack of medical facilities for women is discrimination and exclusion of women. Their voices are not heard. They are simply ignored, neglected and maltreated."

Khan says Sierra Leone is in need of funding to build the necessary health service infrastructure to save women's lives.

The small West African country is slowly rebuilding after a brutal civil war that displaced one-third of the population and killed tens of thousands.

But according to Khan it is not simply an issue of money. She says corruption is wasting limited resources and women's low social status affects their access to life-saving healthcare.

The U.N. General Assembly will meet tomorrow in New York. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce a series of funding packages for healthcare in the developing world.

Amnesty International hopes their campaign will highlight the urgency of Sierra Leone's maternal health situation. A caravan with theater performances, music and films will tour the country during the next few weeks, provoking debate on maternal health among Sierra Leoneans.