Jan 16, 2009

World - Childbirth 300 times riskier in poor countries than in rich: UNICEF

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Women living in poor countries are 300 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than if they lived in rich countries, UNICEF said in a report released Thursday in Johannesburg.

"The divide between industrialised countries and developing regions -- particularly the least developed countries -- is perhaps greater on maternal mortality than on almost any other issue," the UN Children's Fund said.

"No other mortality rate is so unequal," it added.

The lifetime risk of a maternal death for a woman is one in seven in Niger, compared to one in 47,600 in Iceland, the agency said in its annual report on the world's children, this year focusing on health for mothers and newborns.

On average, 1,500 women die every day during pregnancy or childbirth, or about half a million per year, with 95 percent of them in Africa or Asia. India alone accounts for 22 percent of the global total.

One quarter of these women die from post-partum haemorrhage, 15 percent from infections, 13 percent from complication in an abortion, 12 percent from eclampsia (a metabolism problem that causes hypertension and convulsions) and eight percent from obstructed labour.

The maternal deaths also affect the mortality rate among newborns, especially when infants are at greatest risk in the first 28 days of life.

Babies whose mother died during the first six weeks of their life are much more likely to die before their second birthday than infants whose mother survives, the report said.

In an extreme case, 75 percent of babies in Afghanistan whose mother dies in childbirth do not live more than one month, it added.

UNICEF said that about 80 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to primary health care or basic obstetrics.

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