From: Reuters
Published March 1, 2008 08:28 PM

UK lawmakers urge action to cut childbirth deaths

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of women in poor countries die each year during pregnancy or childbirth from largely avoidable causes, British lawmakers said on Sunday.

The International Development Committee said there had been little progress in reducing maternal deaths in developing countries in the last 20 years and it criticised a lack of political will to improve women's health.

One in seven women in Niger dies in childbirth, compared to one in 8,200 in Britain, it said.

Of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2000, there had been least progress on the target of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent, the committee said.

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On current trends, the goal will not be met by the 2015 deadline.

"A key factor in this collective failure has been insufficient political will to drive actions to improve the health of women, both at the international and national levels," it said in a report to coincide with Mothers' Day in Britain.

Studies estimated maternal deaths worldwide in 2005 at 536,000 although the true figure could be as high as 872,000, because of a tendency to under-report such deaths and poor data, said committee chairman Malcolm Bruce, an opposition Liberal Democrat.

"It has ... been estimated that for each woman who dies, 30 further women will become disabled, injured or ill owing to pregnancy, so it is reasonable to assume that millions of women suffer in some way due to childbirth," he said.

Only two in five women in sub-Saharan Africa deliver their babies with the help of skilled medical staff, the report said.

Addressing a huge shortage of midwives worldwide and increasing the availability of emergency obstetric care to all women must remain the main focus of the British government's overseas aid department, the committee recommended.

Increasing access to basic drugs and equipment including family planning supplies was vital, as was tackling gender inequalities that prevented women gaining access to health care.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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