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Last Updated: Monday, 20 October, 2003, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Africa childbirth deaths too high
Mother and children
Many African women have no access to expert care
African women are 175 times more likely to die in childbirth and pregnancy than Westerners, a UN report says.

Overall, African woman have a one in 16 chance of dying in childbirth and pregnancy - but the report says many deaths could be avoided.

Unicef Executive Director Carol Bellamy desribed said the figures showed an "unacceptably high number of women dying in childbirth" and called for increased access to emergency obsteric care.

Many women deliver their children alone or with untrained attendants, says the report.

In 2000 95% of the 529,000 deaths among pregnant women occured in Africa and Asia.

Chance of death in childbirth and pregnancy
Sierra Leone, Afghanistan: one in six
Angola, Malawi, Niger: one in seven
Nepal: one in 24
Pakistan: one in 31
India: one in 48
Malaysia: one in 660
China: one in 830
US: one in 2,500
South Korea: one in 2,800
Britain: one in 3,300
Japan: one in 6,000
Sweden: one in 29,800
The report calls for more women to have access to a skilled health worker during pregnancy and labour, and access to emergency medical care when complications arise.

It says most deaths and disability result from delays in recognising complications, reaching a medical facility or receiving quality care.

Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization, said: "Skilled attendants are vital because they can recognise and prevent medical crises."

New technique

The report is the first time a new analytical technique has been used to estimate the number of deaths among pregnant women in countries where accurate figures are hard to come by.

It shows that in the year 2000, the maternal mortality ratio - which measures the number of deaths to women per 100,000 lives births due to pregnancy-related complications - was 920 in sub-Saharan Africa.

In developed countries it was just 20. In south central Asia it was 520, and in southeastern Asia 210.

The two countries with the worst record were Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, both suffering from years of civil strife, where the risk of death among pregnant women was one in six.

In Angola, Malawi and Niger, it was one in seven.

Japanese women have an only one in 6,000 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

In 2000, world leaders agreed to slash the numer of maternal deaths by 75% by 2015.

Three UN agencies - World Health Organisation, the UNICEF children's agency, and the UN Population Fund - collaborated on the report.

Drive to cut maternal deaths
10 Oct 02  |  Scotland
Fighting for life in birth
11 May 01  |  Africa
The causes of maternal death
23 Nov 98  |  Health

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