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