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Worldwide Maternal Mortality Statistics

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1,600 pregnant women die daily

The first new estimates in a decade show that almost 600,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year. And for every woman who dies, 30 more suffer serious pregnancy- related injuries.

The process of bringing new life into the world is a major cause of death and disability among young women in developing countries, according to The Progress of Nations 1996, the latest edition of a yearly report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Unicef executive director Carol Bellamy said: "It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most neglected tragedies of our times, when 1,600 women, some in their teens, die every day during pregnancy or childbirth and many of these deaths are readily preventable."

The new data show that one in 13 women in sub-Saharan Africa dies of maternal causes, as does one in 35 women in south Asia.

The figure for Western Europe is one woman in 3,200. In the United States, it is one in 3,300. In Canada, it is one in 7,300.

The figures are new and more comprehensive than in previous studies.

Compiled by Unicef, the World Health Organisation and John Hopkins University, the data show a 20 per cent increase over previous estimates.

Unicef will continue its fight to get this issue onto the public and political agenda," said Bellamy, who also pointed out the serious consequences of these statistics for children.

According to the report, nearly 600,000 women dying each year in childbirth leave behind at least a million motherless children.

The statistics in the Unicef report paint a grim picture of the toll of motherhood on young women’s lives.

The most common cause of death during pregnancy and childbirth each year include 140,000 from haemorrhaging, 75,000 from attempting to abort themselves, 100,000 from sepsis and 40,000 from obstructed labour.

In addition, one quarter of all adult women in the developing world are affected by injuries related to pregnancy and childbirth. These injuries are painful, humiliating and often permanent, says the Unicef report.

The most distressing is fistula, which leaves an estimated 80,000 women a year injured and incontinent.

Most cases go untreated, and somewhere between 500,000 and one million women are living with the problem at this moment, says the report.

If the toll of maternal death and injury is to be reduced, says Unicef, then the silence that surrounds the issue has to be broken.

According to the report, the delivery of adequate obstetric care to women in developing countries would not be expensive. Affordable basic training in obstetric care could be provided for doctors, midwives and nurses. This would ensure safer deliveries for most pregnant women.

You don't need five-star hospitals," says the report. "There are thousands of hospitals in the developing world that, with minimum upgrading, could provide adequate obstetric care.

But many are unusable for the lack of a hundred dollars worth of maintenance, a repair to an anaesthesia machine, the installation of proper lighting."

In a chapter on social issues in the industrialised world, the Progress of Nations 1996 looks at child poverty in the world's most economically successful nations.

With more than one in five of its children below the poverty line, the United States has the largest number of poor children. (United States also has the largest number of rich children in the world).

Four other countries, Australia, Canada, Ireland and Israel, have child poverty rates of more than 10 per cent.

Cambodia times - july 22/1996

This Web page is referenced from another page containing related information about Midwifery Advocacy and Statistics


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