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WHO: Global Maternal Mortality Declines by More Than One-Third

A new report issued by the World Health Organization, or WHO, states that an estimated one-third fewer women are dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, compared to a decade ago. The decline in maternal mortality still is not enough to achieve the worldwide goal of nearly ending pregnancy-related deaths by 2015.

The report issued by the WHO shows birth-related mortality declined by 34 percent during the past decade - from about 546,000 deaths in 1990 to an estimated 358,000 deaths in 2008.

That is an annual rate of decline of about 2.3 percent. Although the report called this progress "notable," it said it too slow to meet the United Nations' goal of reducing maternal deaths from pregnancy or delivery problems by 75 percent during the next five years.

Colin Mathers, with the World Health Organization in Geneva, said, "It's somewhat less than half the pace that would be needed."

To achieve the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals on maternal mortality, Mathers, who analyzed data in the report, said the annual decline in deaths would need to be 5.5 percent. The study notes that 10 of 87 countries with historically high rates of maternal deaths are on track to achieving the 5.5 percent annual reduction.

The report noted progress in sub-Saharan Africa, with a 26 percent decline overall in maternal mortality since 1990.

According to the World Health Organization, 99 percent of maternal deaths in 2008 occurred in the developing world, with more than half in poor regions of sub-Saharan Africa, and an estimated one-third in South Asia.

The WHO's Colin Mathers says that reducing the rate of maternal deaths requires a commitment by countries, international organizations and charities to educate and train more medical personnel to attend to pregnant women.

Mathers said it also is extremely important to educate women. "General education, but also education about pregnancy - about pregnancy, childbirth, control of fertility. [This is] very important in reducing adverse outcomes for mothers and children."

Next week, the United Nations is scheduled to convene a conference in New York of more than 140 heads of state to review the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, which include eliminating mother and infant mortality.

Phil Hay, an advisor to the World Bank development office that is dealing with health and education issues at the summit, said, "Look, these goals are due by 2015. What are we going to do as a development community to make sure all this happens by 2015?"

Hay said the World Bank is prepared to make a significant monetary contribution toward achieving the Millennium goals in 35 of the poorest nations with the highest rates of maternal mortality.

"These are mostly going to be countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. And we are prepared to spend up to $650 to $700 million in new financing to make sure that by 2015, we put an end to the unfinished business of trying to keep mothers alive," said Hay.

Hays said the United Nations will make a major effort during the next five years toward achieving the Millennium goals, which also include reducing childhood mortality, eliminating hunger and disease, and halving extreme poverty around the globe.