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Report:  S. Asia Needs Major Investment to Improve Maternal/Child Health - 2004-04-12

South Asia will not meet the United Nations' goals for improving maternal and child health without major new investments in public health systems, according to a special issue of the British Medical Journal.

One-third of the world's child deaths and nearly two-thirds of the world's cases of child malnutrition occur in South Asia. Maternal death rates in the region also rank among the highest in the world. The article notes that this situation exists despite improvements in economic development in the region.

Zulfiqar Bhutta is a pediatrician at Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan and a co-author of the article. He says South Asian governments are spending too much on defense and far too little on public health. But he says there are exceptions.

"The region does have examples both at the level of a country, such as Sri Lanka, or at the level of a state, such as Kerala, where policies which are not difficult to emulate have resulted in major improvements in maternal and child health," he said.

Dr. Bhutta says the governments of Sri Lanka and the Indian state of Kerala have made education and community-level basic health services top priorities. These improvements have brought maternal and child health up to developed-world standards.