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UN Population Fund marks Mother's Day with appeal to curb pregnancy deaths

UN Population Fund marks Mother's Day with appeal to curb pregnancy deaths

On the eve of Mother's Day, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) called on world leaders today to ensure safe motherhood for all women, noting that pregnancy-related complications now claim the lives of 60 women every hour - or more than half a million a year.

"Whether in New York, Nashville or Nairobi, every woman should enjoy a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth", UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said. "Yet today, one woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related complications, and this is unacceptable.

"As mothers are honoured in the United States with cards and presents to symbolize their importance, let us also remember women in other countries, for whom pregnancy and childbirth is often life-threatening", Ms. Obaid added in a statement. "There is an urgent need to make the health of women a top priority and to devote the necessary resources to save women's lives."

She emphasized that although many health indicators had improved in recent years, maternal mortality and morbidity remained alarmingly high, with the disparity in maternal health between rich and poor countries the widest of all health indicators.

"While the average obstetrician in the United States is unlikely to see a single maternal death in his or her entire career, complications of pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15 to 49 in many poor countries", Ms. Obaid said. "The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth is one in 16 in the world's poorest nations compared to less than one in 3,700 in the United States."

UNFPA supports safe motherhood interventions in more than 140 countries -- through reproductive health programmes executed with local and international partners. The three-pronged strategy focuses on voluntary family planning, skilled attendance at birth, and emergency obstetric care. Most of the deaths are caused by haemorrhage, obstructed labour, infection, unsafe abortion, and eclampsia, which is pregnancy-related hypertension.

"Maternal mortality claims over half a million women's lives each year. Nearly all these lives could be saved if affordable, good-quality obstetric care were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week", Ms. Obaid said. "When women experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and 15 per cent of all pregnant women do, access to emergency obstetric care means the difference between life and death."

Ms. Obaid commended the United States Administration for its leadership in recently committing $15 billion to HIV/AIDS initiatives in Africa but she challenged the Administration to further demonstrate its commitment to saving women's lives by resuming its funding for the UNFPA.

The US Government decided last July to withdraw $34 million in Congress-approved funds due to allegations that the UNFPA supports forced abortions in China. But three fact-finding missions, including one handpicked by the US State Department, found no evidence of such claims and recommended that the funding be released.