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"Encouraging" drop in maternal deaths

[Sudan] The great majority of southern Sudanese women do not have access to effective ante-natal care. A lack of health facilities means that complications during childbirth can lead to serious injury for many women and maternal mortality rates are unacce UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
In Africa and South Asia, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age. Every year, more than one million children are left motherless and vulnerable because of maternal death
The proportion of women in sub-Saharan Africa who died because of pregnancy fell by more than a quarter between 1990 and 2008, according to estimates released on 15 September.

In 1990, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR - expressed in deaths per 100,000 live births) was 870 in sub-Saharan Africa, the worst rate of any region in the world. In 2008, it was 640, according to data published jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.

Globally, the ratio fell by 34 percent, from 400 to 260, states the report, Trends in Maternal Mortality, noting that this represented an annual decline of 2.3 percent. This is less than half the reduction needed to achieve the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which concerns maternal health.

“There was a 26 percent reduction in maternal death rates in sub-Saharan Africa and this data is encouraging," Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, told IRIN.

Africa's worst MMR rates in 2008 per 100,000 live births
Chad 1200
Somalia 1200
Guinea Bissau 1000
Liberia 990
Burundi 970
Sierra Leone 970
Central African Republic 850
Nigeria 830
Mali 830
Niger 820
"We welcome and are thrilled by the decline, which shows that interventions are working. There are increasing efforts in countries to train more midwives, provide family planning, and strengthen hospitals and health centres to provide care to pregnant women. But we need to do more and increase community engagement. There are still 1,000 women [across the world] who die every day in childbirth, and more than 200 million women with an unmet need for family planning," Obaid said.

Data were collected in 172 countries, but only 63 provided complete information from civil registration systems and good attribution of causes of death for the estimates.

“Maternal deaths are more often misclassified than other [deaths], not only because they are easily confused with deaths due to other causes, but also because health institutions may prefer to attribute them to other causes, due to the stigma of inadequate treatment associated with maternal death,” Lale Say, monitoring and evaluation officer with the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the WHO, told IRIN.

“Even in the best civil registration systems in the world, it has been found that maternal death can be substantially under-reported,” Say added.

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