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Global Maternal Mortality Drops, Afghanistan Has Highest Rate

The average rate at which mothers die during childbirth has dropped globally by approximately 40 percent since 1980, according to a study recently released by The Lancet, a European medical journal. Afghanistan ranked highest, as reported by a research team led by Christopher J.L. Murray at the University of Washington, with 1,575 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Italy ranked lowest at an average of only 4 deaths, the United States' rate was 17, lagging behind other Western nations such as Canada's, which was 7 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The study, which analyzed the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in 181 countries, stated the global average in 2008 was 251 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, said The Washington Post.

The presence of a midwife or a physician at delivery would greatly reduce the risk of maternal or newborn death, reported The Washington Post, yet such professionals are present at only 50 percent of deliveries. 97 percent of maternal deaths occur in 68 countries, and less than 20 percent of these women are visited by a health worker and instructed in breast feeding and proper care. These women and their newborns are also often not assessed for infection. On the bright side, more than 80 percent of babies receive recommended immunizations.

According to The Lancet, the target of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5), launched 10 years ago, is to bring the MMR down by 75 percent by 2015, compared to the numbers in 1980. The report determined that "although only 23 countries are on track to achieve [the goal of a 75 percent decrease], countries such as Egypt, China, Ecuador, and Bolivia have been achieving accelerated progress." The Obama administration's Global Health Initiative will focus on the issue, and Norway will devote 35 percent of its foreign aid to maternal and newborn health, said The Washington Post.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed a committee during a meeting to refine the UN's Joint Action Plan, "The fact remains that one preventable maternal death is too many; hundreds of thousands are simply unacceptable - this, in the 21st century...Make no mistake, all of us must do more...For too long, maternal and child health has been at the back of the MDG train, but we know it can be the engine of development."

Media Resources: The Washington Post 4/14/10; The Lancet 4/12/10; Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Committee Meeting Remarks 4/14/10

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