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No woman should die giving life - UNFPA

In this 21st century, when medical science and gender empowerment are rising progressively, “no woman should die giving life”, declares Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

“It is unacceptable that one woman dies every minute during pregnancy and childbirth when proven interventions exist,” she adds. “Millions of lives are at stake, and we must act now.”

Obaid will be one of the keynote speakers at a major international conference in London that will call for increased investments for health care for women, mothers and newborns.

The three-day conference, scheduled to take place on Oct.18-20, is expected to have more than 1,500 participants, including health care professionals, high-level delegates and ministers from 35 developing countries and donor nations, advocates of women’s rights and senior U.N. officials.

“We will press all concerned to take unified action to improve the lives and health of women, mothers and newborn babies all over the world,” Obaid told IPS.

“We know what is needed to save women from dying. Three simple interventions: Skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and family planning,” she added.

Jessica Neuwirth, president of the New York-based women’s rights group Equality Now, says “the huge disparity in maternal mortality rates gives the loss of life through childbirth a political dimension.”

These deaths are preventable and the failure of governments to prevent them is a violation of women’s right to life, the most fundamental human right, she added.

“Governments must be held accountable for their deadly inaction in addressing maternal mortality”, Neuwirth told IPS.

June Zeitlin, executive director of the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), says the fact that there has been so little progress on maternal mortality is another indication of the gap between rhetoric and reality on gender equality.

While governments and the United Nations have made many commitments to address gender equality, including in the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they have not effectively backed up this commitment with political will or the resources necessary to achieve this goal, she added.

“The fact that so many countries will fail to meet either the goal on poverty reduction or on maternal mortality is a result in part of failing to take into account the need to address gender equality,” Zeitlin told IPS.

The persistent discrimination and inequalities faced by women are inextricably related to their lack of resources and impede their ability to access health services.

“Reducing maternal mortality and poverty — in other words, sound development policy — requires a substantial investment in reducing gender inequality now,” she declared.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015. But their implementation has been thwarted primarily by lack of resources and political will. The London conference, titled “Women Deliver”, will have as its theme: “Invest in Women — It Pays”.

In a statement issued last week, UNFPA said the world’s maternal mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is declining too slowly to meet one of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG 5), which aims to improve maternal health and prevent women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth.

While an annual decline of 5.5 percent in maternal mortality ratios between 1990 and 2015 is required to achieve MDG 5, the latest statistics released jointly by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNFPA and the World Bank show an annual decline of less than one percent.

In 2005, 536,000 women died of maternal causes, compared to 576,000 in 1990. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occurred in developing countries. The probability that a 15-year-old girl will die from a complication related to pregnancy and childbirth during her lifetime is highest in Africa: 1 in 26.

In the developed regions, it is one in 7,300. Of all 171 countries and territories for which estimates were made, Niger had the highest estimated lifetime risk of one in seven. Eleven countries accounted for almost 65 percent of global maternal deaths in 2005.

India had the largest number (117,000), followed by Nigeria (59,000), the Democratic Republic of Congo (32,000) and Afghanistan (26,000), according to the latest statistics released here.

At the midway point in the timeline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, UNFPA’s Obaid said, “It is time to accelerate investments in women’s health and rights. It is time for governments to make reproductive health a priority.”

According to UNFPA, an additional estimated annual investment of between 5.5 billion dollars and 6.1 billion dollars is required by 2015 from domestic and international sources to meet the target of improving maternal health.

Some additional funding will also be needed to meet the target of universal access to reproductive health under MDG 5.

These investments would also reduce child mortality, assist with reducing the malaria burden and mitigate HIV-AIDS through its effect on HIV prevention and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies among HIV-positive women, UNFPA said.

(IPS)

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