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Healthcare for Pregnant Women Improving in Developing Countries, says UNICEF - 2004-04-07

Healthcare for pregnant women is on the rise in developing countries, according to a new report. And that means more healthy babies and mothers. More than half a million women die during pregnancy and labor every year, and millions of children die before they are one month old. Healthcare during pregnancy, or antenatal care, can prevent many of those deaths.

The report, from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, says antenatal care increased by 20 percent among women in the developing world between 1990 and 2000. According to the report, the proportion of women who had at least one antenatal, or pre-birth, visit increased from about half in 1990 to nearly two thirds in 2000. But progress has been uneven. South Asia lags behind, for example, with just over 50 percent of women getting antenatal care.

And report co-author Tessa Wardlaw says there is room for improvement.

"Clearly there are some significant issues related to the quality of services, and that's what we have to address now," said Tessa Wardlaw.

Ms. Wardlaw says while antenatal visits provide an opportunity to improve maternal and child health, that opportunity is too often missed. She says that antenatal care needs to focus more on preventing and treating infections like malaria, tetanus, and HIV, and on counseling pregnant women on proper nutrition for themselves and their babies.