Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 00:15 UK

Action call over maternal deaths

Women at a clinic in Uganda
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of mortality in childbirth

Urgent action is needed to reduce the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth, the World Health Organization has said.

Its director of maternal health, Dr Franciso Songanem, said funding needed to be better co-ordinated.

And he admitted the 2015 target to reduce maternal deaths by 75% from 1990 levels was likely to be missed.

Analysis in 2007 show rates have changed little - latest figures show 500,000 women are dying each year.

The research by Harvard University, shows that between 1990 and 2005 mortality rates fell at less than 1% per year.

Urgent global action is needed to increase investment and political commitment to scale up these life-saving services for mothers and their children
Dr Franciso Songane, of the World Health Organization

The study said unsafe abortions, haemorrhaging and problems delivering were the major causes.

Dr Songane, director of the WHO's Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, said maternal deaths were still far too common and the 2015 target was "unlikely to be met".

"Some 99% of maternal deaths occur in the poorest communities of the world. Most deaths could be prevented and solutions exist, but are not available to those who need them most.

"Urgent global action is needed to increase investment and political commitment to scale up these life-saving services for mothers and their children."

He said the solution lay in more investment and directing funds to local projects that could make a difference.

He cited a project in Matlab in the south of Bangladesh run by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, which is featured in the BBC World series Survival.

Nine in 10 women in Bangladesh give birth at home without any medical intervention, with more than one in 50 dying.

The scheme trains local women to offer advice about diet, run ante-natal classes and help deliver babies.

Dr Muhammad Yunnus, who is helping to run the project, said: "We have to give all women a better chance of surviving childbirth."

  • Survival is being broadcast on BBC World on Saturdays and Sundays until 9 November.

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