Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

India launches new drive against pregnancy deaths

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Mother and child in Barmer, Rajasthan
India has the highest number of maternal deaths in the world

A new campaign to create awareness about maternal mortality in India has been launched. Campaigners say that 78% of maternal deaths are avoidable.

An Indian woman dies every seven minutes during pregnancy or childbirth.

"Play Your Part" aims to bring the families and communities together to stop 65,000 maternal deaths every year.

Campaigners say a lack of health facilities coupled with the lower social status of the women affected are to blame for high mortality rates.

'Silent emergency'

A quarter of the world's total maternal deaths take place in India - the most in any country in the world.

"Women in India are 60 to 70 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than in developed countries," says Aparajita Gogoi of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood.

"What makes us angry is that 78% of these deaths are preventable," she adds.

Ms Gogoi says the main reason for such high maternal mortality rates (MMRs) in India is the low social status of women.

"Right from the time a girl is born, to her nutrition and education, it's a story of neglect.

"Women get married young, they have no access to family planning methods, they have no say in reproductive matters and many women suffer from anaemia and malnutrition."

Economist AK Shiva Kumar says the high MMR is a "silent emergency".

"There are 25 million births and 1.5 million infant deaths every year in India. In comparison, 65,000 women dying in childbirth doesn't seem like a big number."

Mr Kumar says that is why the issue does not get much attention from policy-makers and politicians.

Most victims are poor people in remote rural areas who have little access to healthcare.

According to official data, 254 women die per 100,000 live births in India. A World Bank report puts the figure at 450.

In India, the north-eastern state of Assam has the highest MMR at 480 while the southern state of Kerala, which scores well on human development indices, has the lowest at 95.

But Mr Kumar says that even Kerala is a lot worse than China (50), Sri Lanka (43), Brazil (72) and Thailand (24).

The Indian government had promised to bring the number down to 164 by 2000 and to 109 by 2015.

It is unlikely that promise will be kept.

"We are way behind that target," Mr Kumar said.

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