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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Women's health fuelling poverty
Tackling female health would not only save millions of lives but reduce global poverty, experts say.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says 99% of maternal deaths are preventable yet every minute a woman dies from pregnancy-related causes.

This loss impacts not only on the family and society, but also on the economy, its latest report says.

UNFPA says investment in reproductive health and gender equality could spur growth and sustainable development.

Preventable killers

An estimated 529,000 women died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in 2000, virtually all in developing countries.

For every woman who dies, roughly 20 more suffer serious injury or disability - between 8 million and 20 million a year.

Experts agree that the majority of maternal deaths are preventable through family planning to reduce unintended pregnancies, skilled attendance at all deliveries and timely emergency obstetric care in all cases where complications arise.

A mother with her children
If women are healthy then they can jump start the life of their family and the economy
Executive director of UNFPA Thoraya Obaid

One of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by world experts in 2000 was to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio by 2015.

Major reductions in the number of deaths have taken place in countries with either low or moderate levels of maternal mortality. Similar progress, however, has not been made in countries where maternal mortality is high.

Executive director of UNFPA Thoraya Obaid said: "The problem is implementation and monitoring implementation.

"You have to spend more on healthcare and on looking after women.

"If women are healthy then they can jump start the life of their family and the economy."

She called for the "utterly immoral" gap between the reproductive health of rich and poor women to be closed.

"In no other area of health are the disparities between rich and poor so wide and the tragic consequences so utterly immoral," she told a news conference at the Foreign Press Association in London to launch a population report .


She said another big area of health affecting women was HIV/Aids.

Worldwide, young women aged 15-24 are 1.6 times as likely as young men to be HIV positive.

"In Africa, HIV/Aids has a young woman's face and many of them are married. It is their husband who brings HIV into the house.

Part of the problem is that developing countries are facing critical shortfalls of contraceptives and condoms.

She said that in sub-Saharan Africa: "One man has access to six condoms a year. Certainly that is not sufficient to protect against HIV."

Giving mothers, babies and children the care they need is an absolute imperative
Dr Lee Jong-Wook, director general of WHO

She believes the solution to the HIV problem is combination of sex education, abstinence, couples remaining faithful to their partners and greater use of condoms.

Other gender inequalities that need to be addressed include violence, education and human rights, says UNFPA.

"When women are educated, healthy and employed, and able to make decisions about childbearing and reproductive life, everyone benefits," it says.

The World Health Organization has already warned that unless concerted effort is undertaken to meet global healthcare goals, the 2015 deadline set by the governments of the world will be missed.

Its World Health Report 2005, back in April, said being poor or being a woman was often a reason for being discriminated against.

WHO's director general Dr Lee Jong-Wook said: "Giving mothers, babies and children the care they need is an absolute imperative."

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said: "The UNFPA is right to focus on the need for greater effort to tackle gender inequality.

"Worldwide, millions of women are unable to protect themselves from HIV infection due to lack of prevention methods that can be controlled by women, causing unneccessary suffering and death. "One of the most urgent actions is to increase funding for microbicide and vaccine development and invest in education that will ensure they are accepted within communities."

Your comments:

This is not about birth rates, this is about the lack of meaningful investment in proper medical care, hygiene, education, and proper nutrition. If you think the forced abortions in China are superior to democracy, I'm surprised you even care about starving millions.
Mrs Stokes, Redditch, UK

A progressive society can be measured by the way that its women are treated
Needa M, Philadephia PA
Women are the bearers of new life. In order to protect future lives we must protect women. Promoting women's health physically and mentally should be a top priority internationally. A progressive society can be measured by the way that its women are treated. If women are healthy then their children and families will have a greater chance of also being healthy and productive. There is no excuse for this grave human inequality. Women should no longer be valued as second class citizens.
Needa M, Philadephia PA

It is sad seeing mothers and kids dying every minute from a cause that can be prevented. As a student nurse, I am hoping one day I can pass on the knowledge to other women who are in the situation.
Vivian, Uesund, Norway

If all the money that has been poured into aid for third-world countries was used for contraception, there would be no hunger in the world today. Forget about saving the starving millions, you cannot even dent the surface. Stop the runaway birth rate and a couple of generations will see the answer. China is leading the way- democracy is preventing governments from making the difficult decisions
Devon Fletcher, Australia

Self supporting , self sufficient , independent and educated. This should be the mantra for women today. Only then can we hope to see a change in the situation.
Karl Irani, Bombay, India

These are such very basic common-sense recommendations that it's appalling they're not already in place. Compare the situation to the US, where we have all these measures (or, at least, the middle classes and rich do), but where the powerful "religious right" is lobbying to take them away.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

I think we should see more articles like this. Women's health has always been at the bottom of everyone's list. Articles like this bring to the fore front the seriousness of this issue. The reality that if women are not looked or looking after themselves our whole society pays the bill. We need to hear more on the subject.
Deirdrie Ellis, London Canada

Health is not a gender issue but a poverty issue. It effects men as women and depends on the area they live. For this to be seen as a woman issue is typical of the real discrimination. Western women will use this sort of article to further discriminate against men.
Peter Evans, Bristol

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