As the international community marks World Poverty Day Tuesday, health experts say one of the keys to reducing poverty is improving maternal health care for women. The problem is particularly serious in Africa where an estimated 700 women die each day of complications from pregnancy or childbirth.
The Africa director of the United Nations Population Fund, Fama Ba, says while money has been spent on new hospitals and clinics, many developing countries have a hard time keeping staff from leaving for jobs in wealthier countries.
"They are facing the outflow of health personnel going to the North," she said. "You can go to some health facilities and you don't find anybody to attend to those people. And this has a consequent impact on the increasing levels of maternal mortality in many areas."
Ba says there have been success stories in reducing the numbers of women dying in childbirth in Africa. Senegal, she says, reduced its maternal mortality rate by 20 percent over the last decade by working with community organizations and building new health centers.
Ba says spending money on women's health and family planning is sound economic policy.
"Half of the population is constituted by women. And it is confirmed by many studies that investing in reproductive health and family planning is absolutely critical to empowering women and to have them contribute their full potential to the development of their countries," said Ba.
The U.N.'s Millennium Development goals call for more investment in sexual and reproductive health to reduce poverty in half by 20-15.
The world body estimates two in three Africans have no access to essential services, such as family planning, maternal health care, and HIV prevention and treatment.