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Deaths in childbirth drop by a third

The number of women who die giving birth has fallen by a third, global health organisations said on Wednesday.

Fewer women die each year from birth and pregnancy than first thought, The World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

About 358,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirth in 2008, mostly in poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, found a WHO report. And mothers in developing countries are 36 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than those in developed countries.

In April, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, a global alliance hosted by the World Health Organisation, estimated that maternal deaths worldwide could still be as high as 500,000.

The global reduction in maternal death rates is encouraging news," said the WHO’s Dr Margaret Chan. "Countries where women are facing a high risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth are taking measures that are proving effective. They are training more midwives and strengthening hospitals and health centres to assist pregnant women.

But the fall in deaths during or through childbirth is not enough to meet the goal of cutting deaths during pregnancy and childbirth by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.

"Three hundred and fifty thousand deaths every year is still far too many,” said Save the Children's Nouria Bricki. “These deaths are especially shocking because we know what to do to save these women's lives.

"Crucially when we save mother's lives we also save the lives of their children. The best way to improve chances for mothers, babies and young children is to tackle both problems as one. Mothers and their children both use the same health facilities and are treated by the same doctors, nurses and midwives so separating maternal and child heath makes no sense.

Free healthcare for expecting mothers is a vital step towards protecting these mothers and their babies," she said.

A Maternal Death Clock – a giant digital clock that counts the deaths of mothers around the globe, will be put up in New York’s Times Square on Monday to highlight the issue. The clock, a stunt by the rights charity Amnesty International, will start at 5,317,280 – the number of women who have died since the Millennium Declaration was adopted on September 8, 2000.

Noting that there is still work to be done, The WHO’s Dr Chan said: “No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care.

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