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Global conference focuses on pregnancy-related deaths


U.N.: Africa, Asia have highest maternal-death rate

April 7, 1998
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT)

In this story:

GENEVA (CNN) -- The miracle of life means death for too many mothers in the developing world. Every minute, a women dies because of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. That's 585,000 women a year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

According to the Geneva-based U.N. agency, almost 90 percent of such deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. By comparison, the United States has about 300 pregnancy-related deaths a year.

In a report marking World Health Day, the WHO report also said nearly 8 million babies are stillborn or die in the first week of their lives. Most early infant deaths occur because the mother was in poor health or received inadequate care during delivery.

The issue was being addressed at a Washington conference called "World Health Day-Safe Motherhood & Reducing Maternal Death." U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and World Bank President James Wolfensohn were among the scheduled participants.

'Women don't get special care'

WHO listed the three leading causes of maternal death:

  • Severe bleeding (25 percent)
  • Infection (15 percent)
  • Unsafe abortion (13 percent)

The report also cited indirect causes such as anemia, malaria and heart disease.


A coalition of international health organizations has dubbed 1998 "The Year of Safe Motherhood" and launched a drive to reduce the maternal mortality rate by half by 2000.

To accomplish that, the groups are calling on aid agencies and multinational corporations to fund programs that support maternal care.

"If one in 10 (women) die in some villages due to pregnancy-related causes, its almost taken for granted," said Dr. Pramilla Senanayake of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. "There's no one recognizing this and doing things to save women's lives (by) providing health care (and) nutritional care."
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In many cultures, said World Bank health specialist Anne Tinker, "women don't get special care, eat special foods. We're trying to change that situation."
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mother and baby

Healthy mothers = healthy economy

The WHO report said African women are most vulnerable to pregnancy-related deaths, followed by women in Asia and Latin America.

One out of every 16 women in Africa faced a lifetime risk of maternal death compared to one in 65 in Asia, one in 130 in Latin America and just one in 1,800 in the Western world -- one in 1,400 in Europe and one in 3,700 in North America.

The risks are calculated on the basis of maternal mortality and fertility rates. A figure of one in 100 is seen as high.

Maternal death is an issue Mrs. Clinton repeatedly has addressed on her trips to the developing world. The World Bank is trying to convince businesses that healthy mothers mean a healthy economy.

"In many countries, we're beginning to see more programs ... but it takes time," Tinker said.
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Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Reuters contributed to this report.


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