Page last updated at 00:59 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's Day call for labour deaths action

By Jane Dreaper
BBC News health correspondent

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

Pregnant women in developing countries face the same risk of death as women in the UK did 100 years ago, according to a coalition of campaign groups.

They are using International Women's Day to call for more action to reduce deaths among women during pregnancy.

They say improving mothers' health is "the most off-target" of the UN's eight Millennium Development Goals.

For every 100,000 live births in developing countries, 450 women die during pregnancy or labour.

The coalition, which includes White Ribbon Alliance, Amnesty International and Oxfam, says that in 1910, 355 women died per 100,000 live births in England and Wales.

In Scotland and the Irish Republic, the rate was higher - at 572 and 531 respectively.

In Ghana today the rate of pregnancy-related deaths is 560, while in Chad it is 1,500. The rate in the UK is now 14 deaths per 100,000.

There still remains a long way to go for the protection and security of pregnant women and their newborn children
Brigid McConville, Director of White Ribbon Alliance

The comparison has been drawn because it was 100 years ago that International Women's Day was established.

The UN says although it is difficult to get accurate figures on maternal mortality, very little progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa - and deaths in southern Asia "remain unacceptably high".

Brigid McConville, the director of White Ribbon Alliance, which campaigns for safe motherhood, said: "There still remains a long way to go for the protection and security of pregnant women and their newborn children."

Monday is the official launch of a week of events. Campaigners will march at the Millennium Bridge in London and lay white roses outside Parliament.

Preventable deaths

Some countries have made progress in improving women's health - most notably Nepal and Rwanda.

Chief Executive of Save the Children, Jasmine Whitbread, explains the risks women face

In Mongolia, reduced deaths were achieved by educating women about the signs of complications in pregnancy and by helping them travel to special homes where they could wait to give birth.

Many of the medical problems are easily preventable if, for example, women have access to skilled health workers who can treat infections and use drugs to prevent haemorrhage.

The Millennium Development Goal also envisages preventing deaths that result from complications after unsafe abortions and allowing women access to contraception - to prevent riskier births in teenage mothers and to allow them to space their children.

The issue has become politically more significant in recent years, with the backing of the British Prime Minister's wife Sarah Brown, who is patron of the White Ribbon Alliance.

The Women Deliver conference in Washington DC in June aims to put increased pressure on world leaders to tackle the problems.

Amnesty International's UK director Kate Allen said: "It's clearly been possible to cut back on the rate of maternal deaths here in the UK.

"We need to demonstrate that same level of commitment worldwide."

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