29/09/2004

Global action needed to prevent childbirth deaths

With at least one woman in developing countries dying in childbirth every minute - more than half a million annually - the UN health agency has launched a drive to train health workers to help prevent such deaths.

The campaign by the World Health Organisation (WHO) includes the distribution of Beyond the Numbers - Reviewing Maternal Deaths and Complications to Make Pregnancy Safer, a manual for health planners and providers. The $10 million project also involves training decision-makers, national health planners and medical service providers in high-priority countries.

The initiative is being carried out in collaboration with more than 20 regional and international agencies, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.

The UN has described the issue as an "invisible epidemic" in poor countries, where the risk of dying in childbirth is over 100 times higher than in rich nations.

WHO said the extent of the tragedy had not been clarified as "as many as half of all maternal deaths go unreported". Over 60 states don't even track statistics on the problem, the agency said.

"If dead women are not even counted, then it seems they do not count," Joy Phumaphi, WHO's Assistant Director-General on Family and Community Health, said.

The effects are tragically amplified, with an estimated 1 million children left motherless each year. Those youngsters are 10 times more likely to die in childhood than others whose mothers are alive, according to the WHO.

(gmcg/mb)

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