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WHO – Maternal Deaths Fall

NAIROBI, Sep 15 2010 (IPS) - The number of women dying from pregnancy related causes around the world is falling. Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most dangerous place for pregnant women, despite recording a 26 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates.

Government hospital in Makeni, Sierra Leone: reaching women in rrual areas and poor households is key to continued progress. Credit:  Nancy Paulus/IRIN

Government hospital in Makeni, Sierra Leone: reaching women in rrual areas and poor households is key to continued progress. Credit: Nancy Paulus/IRIN

The statistics in the “Trends in Maternal Mortality” report released by the World Health Organisation. on Sep. 15 cover the period from 1990 to 2008, revealing that maternal mortality fell from 540,000 deaths worldwide in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008 – a 34 percent decline.

Several reasons are cited for the reduction in number of maternal deaths, including improvement in health systems to assist pregnant women and increased education of women, raising awareness of the importance of delivering with skilled help.

Around the world, more midwives are also being trained. The proportion of deliveries attended by skilled health personnel rose from 53 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2008. The proportion of women who attended a pre-natal clinic at least once during their also rose from 64 percent to 80 percent.

The use of contraceptives by women aged 15-49 also rose: East Asia which experienced the greatest reduction in maternal deaths has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 86 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa, where contraceptives are used by just 22 percent of women, recorded one of the lowest declines of maternal mortality.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia still account for 87 percent of global maternal deaths.

Nearly two thirds of all maternal deaths take place in just eleven countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Tanzania.

South Asia recorded an overall maternal mortality rate of 280 deaths per 100,000 live births. Sub-Saharan Africa had a rate of 640 per 100,000. Afghanistan, Chad, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia all recorded maternal mortality rates over 1,000 per 100,000 live births.

The rate of progress recorded in the U.N. figures is less than half of what is needed to achieve MDG target for reducing maternal deaths, translating into an average annual decline of 2.3 percent since 1990. To meet MDG target five an annual decline of 5.5 percent is required.

Reacting to the release of the numbers by the U.N., Kenyan reproductive health expert Joachim Osur said the decline must be concentrated elsewhere in the world, because the situation in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be bad.

Osur says a lack of funding for the health sector, and particularly reproductive health, is at the heart of the problem.

“Most governments – almost all of them in Africa – depend on international donors for funding for maternal health. In the case of Kenya, we cannot survive without external help. Budgets do not fund the health sector fully. If you want good services, especially in reproductive health, you must pay for this,” he says.

Osur says community education is lacking in most rural areas and he argues that in the case of Kenya, the situation was actually better in the 1990s.

“In the early 1990s, there was increased awareness on family planning but this went down in the 2000s. The hype has gone down, supplies in hospitals are lacking. The reality here is markedly different from the global reduction on the rate of maternal deaths,” he says.

In a statement released to the press, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, Anthony Lake, said that to achieve the goal on improving maternal health and to save women’s lives, government initiatives must reach those most at risk.

“This means reaching women in rural areas and poorer households, women from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups and women living with HIV and in conflict zones,” he says.

The U.N. report calls for donors to help governments implement plans to improve access to reproductive health services.

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