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Mothers, Newborns at High Risk in Developing World

UNICEF report finds 500,000 new mothers dying each year

THURSDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- A pregnant woman living in one of the world's poorest countries is 300 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women living in more affluent nations, a UNICEF annual report released Thursday shows.

The State of the World's Children report also estimates that infants born in developing nations have a 14-fold higher chance of dying during their first month of life compared to newborns in richer countries.

The health of infants is closely tied to that of their mothers, UNICEF noted.

"To save children's lives, we need to address the health of their mothers -- it's that simple. There is an inextricable link between maternal and infant survival," Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said in a UNICEF news release. "With all of the medical technology women have access to here in the U.S., it is easy to take maternal and prenatal care for granted, but every year, the number of maternal deaths worldwide exceeds 500,000, including about 70,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 19."

Some other statistics from the report:

  • Women in the developing world face a one in 76 lifetime risk of maternal death, compared to a risk of just one in 8,000 for women living in the developed world. More than 99 percent of deaths linked to pregnancy and its complications worldwide occur in developing countries.
  • For every woman who dies from pregnancy-linked complications, another 20 fall victim to related illnesses or injury, with consequences that can linger for years.
  • The countries with the highest risks for maternal deaths are: Niger, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mali. In Niger, a woman faces a one-in-seven chance of maternal death.

There was good news in the report, however, especially when it comes to the health of young children. For example, the death rate for children under the age of 5 fell by half between 1990 and 2007 in both Niger and the East African nation of Malawi. In Bangladesh, the death rate for those under 5 is now half of what it was in 1990, and Indonesia has cut that statistic to nearly a third of what it was in 1990.

Still, too many new mothers and their children are dying needlessly, UNICEF says. Better, more integrated health-care systems that link women's homes to community-based care could help improve the situation.

However, "saving the lives of mothers and their newborns requires more than just medical intervention," Stern said. "What's also essential is a stable environment that empowers women and respects their rights. In addition, educating girls and young women is one of the most fundamental ways to improve maternal and newborn health and also benefits families and societies."

More information

You can download a free copy of the report at UNICEF.

-- E.J. Mundell

SOURCE: Jan. 15, 2009, news release, UNICEF

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