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More children and mothers surviving

The world’s poorest countries have been praised for improving health for women and children as part of UN strategy to save 16 million lives.

Child and maternal mortality rates have seen a dramatic fall across the globe according to a report out today by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It comes a year after the United Nations called a major meeting UN to combat the number of women and babies who die in childbirth. 

Since those talks 44 of the world's poorest countries have made huge pledges to the cause, totalling about £7bn the report said. 

And the very poorest countries made the commitments, said the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH). "The leadership shown by the lowest-income countries in their commitments to improve women's and children's health has been outstanding," said Harvard public health specialist, Dr Julio Frenk from PMNCH.

As well as promising money, to improve healthcare for women and children 24 countries have vowed to boost access to family planning services, 18 promised to get more skilled birth attendants and 23 to overcoming cost barriers to treatment. Sierra Leone, has made healthcare free for pregnant women and children.

Bangladesh vowed to double the amount of skilled birth attendants at births by 2015 and train 3,000 midwives. And India said it aims to spend $3.5bn a year on health services, concentrating on the 264 regions where 70 per cent of babies and mothers die. 

Every year, about 358,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth and 7.6 million children under five, including newborns, die every year, according to the latest figures. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, called last year’s meeting because the world was making slow progress towards two of the UN millennium development goals – cutting maternal and child mortality. 

It is too soon to say what progress has been made in the year since that meeting, experts say but there hope that there has been a sea change in the global attitude to preventing mothers and babies dying in pregnancy and childbirth. 

The hardest problem will be for poor countries to get hold of the amount of money they have pledged to the cause said the report. "Stakeholders identified funding shortfalls as the most important constraint to implementation and many also pointed out that there is insufficient clarity on how and when the funds already committed can be accessed," it said.

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