Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 15:21 UK

Maternal mortality drop is hailed

Children in Madhya Pradesh
Millions of children in India are malnourished

There has been a big fall in the number of mothers dying during childbirth in South Asia, according to the UN children's fund (Unicef).

In a new report, the agency says that maternal mortality fell by five percent worldwide in the 15 years to 2005.

The figures show that the rates fell by 22% in South Asia (from 650 to 500 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Unicef says that antenatal care and childbirth attendance rates in the region have also improved.

Their report said that India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan were still among the 10 countries that accounted for almost two-thirds of maternal deaths globally.

Maternal causes

South Asian women are among the least likely to have a skilled birth attendant at delivery, the report said.

Roshni - an underweight baby in India
Underweight babies are more likely to die than a healthy ones

Only 41% of all births are delivered by a health professional and in India an estimated 14.4 million births a year are not attended by a skilled provider.

"Antenatal care coverage in South Asia is the lowest in the world, but improvements are also proceeding more rapidly than in any other region," the report said.

It says that despite the improvements, South Asia still accounts for more than one third (187,000) of the estimated 536,000 women who died in 2005 from maternal causes.

That it says is a higher proportion that any other region in the world.

India alone, with an estimated 117,000 deaths in 2005, accounted for about one fifth (22%) of the global total of maternal deaths, according to the report.

"The goal needs to be a continuum of care for women and children that includes prevention of unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions, provision of high quality pregnancy and delivery care, including nutrition and emergency obstetric care," the report says.

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