Page last updated at 23:22 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

Call to act on maternal mortality

A doctor examines a pregnant woman in Nepal. File photo
Hundreds of thousands of women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth

Health ministers from around the world have agreed that swift action must be taken to reduce the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

At the UN Population Fund meeting in Addis Ababa the ministers said the number of women dying in this way was actually increasing in some nations.

The ministers seemed to agree that family planning was the most cost-effective way of tacking the problem.

However, no unanimous declaration was adopted at the Addis Ababa talks.

Brain drain

The ministers said the world must act swiftly to stand any chance of reaching the UN's development goal of reducing global maternal mortality rates.

The ministers also recognised that more investment was needed in primary and emergency healthcare to save the lives of both mothers and babies in 15% of birth when complications arise, the BBC's Pascale Harter in Addis Ababa says.

But many governments - like that of the host company Ethiopia - have already invested heavily in training midwives only to have them work abroad. There are said to be more Ethiopian midwives working in Chicago now than in Addis Ababa, our correspondent says.

She adds that the Hamlin college of midwives in Ethiopia, however, is about to graduate its first intake of students and it believes it may have come up with a solution to the brain drain.

"We are actually hand-picking girls. Some of these girls wouldn't have the opportunities to go onto further education. We draw up a contract with their families that we will give them a full scholarship and if they work for six years post graduation back in their own area," says Annette Bennett, the college's dean.

"And many of them are really excited to be given this opportunity to then go back and work with their communities. They come from where the hardships are," she says.

But to really meet demand in countries like Ethiopia both government and aid donors would need to commit more money to this kind of primary healthcare, our correspondent says.

And yet while donor aid to fight HIV/Aids more than doubled earlier this decade, aid for primary healthcare dropped by nearly half, she adds.

Maternal mortality rates around the world

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