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Maternal :: Progress in slowing maternal deaths too slow

The number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth is not declining fast enough to achieve the global target of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015, United Nations agencies warn.

Attaining Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 – one of several global anti-poverty and development targets agreed to by a UN summit in 2000 – requires an annual decline of 5.5 per cent in maternal mortality ratios between 1990 and 2015. But the current annual decline is less than 1 per cent, according to figures released by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.

And this small drop reflects for the most part declines in countries with relatively low levels of maternal mortality. “Countries with the highest initials levels of mortality have made virtually no progress over the past 15 years,” the agencies said in a joint press release.

Of the more than 535,000 women who died annually of maternal causes in 2005, 99 per cent of them were in developing countries.

In addition, slightly more than half of the maternal deaths – some 270,000 – occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by South Asia with 188,000. Together, these two regions accounted for 86 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths in 2005.

In this context, the agencies say that achieving MDG 5 will require improving health care for women and providing universal access to reproductive health services. Also crucial is ensuring that transportation and appropriately staffed and equipped facilities are within reach.

In addition, reducing maternal mortality requires educating and empowering women to make well-informed decisions and improving gender equality, the agencies added.

Meanwhile, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who addressed the challenges facing Africa in a speech delivered in Oslo today, also cited the current maternal mortality rates and described them as “shockingly high.”

A woman in Africa has a one in 16 chance of dying in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy, compared with a likelihood of one in 3,800 in the developed world, she noted.

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