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Childbirth still a risky undertaking in many countries

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    Childbirth Still a Risky Undertaking in Many Countries

    September 20, 2010

    The U.N. has made improving maternal health a major goal for 2015, but progress has been slow despite good science on what makes motherhood safer
    By Melinda Wenner Moyer

    LIFE AND DEATH: In some countries the rate of maternal deaths has been increasing, despite efforts through the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goal program.

    Some 350,000 women die each year during pregnancy or soon after giving birth, with women in sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan facing the highest risks. Although global rates of maternal death have been dropping by about 1.5 percent each year since 1980, there is still a long way to go if countries hope to meet United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 by 2015?a 75 percent reduction in the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births from 1990 levels. Today, an average of 251 women die per 100,000 births, and only 23 countries are on track to reach the MDG, with some countries even moving in the wrong direction.

    Approximately 15 percent of women everywhere develop pregnancy complications. These include infections (such as HIV), pregnancy-induced hypertension, obstructed labor and hemorrhage. Most can be managed with proper care, but many women simply do not receive it. "It's not that you require a scientific breakthrough to solve these situations?in developed countries the knowledge and technical tools have been available to women for many, many years," says Ana Langer, coordinator of the Dean's Special Initiative on Women and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. In many places, however, "women do not have access to them."