One pregnant woman dies every 90 seconds hardly progress

The UN announced yesterday that the number of women dying each year due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has dropped by 34 per cent, from about 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008, according to their report "Trends in Maternal Mortality".

To put this into context, it means that while a woman died every minute in pregnancy or childbirth back in 1990, now it’s every 90 seconds. Doesn’t feel much like progress, does it?

And of course, it’s the poorest women who bear the burden – according to AFP, 99 per cent of these deaths occur in developing countries.

And a similar percentage of these deaths are preventable – the result not of incurable illness but of a lack of access to hospitals and midwives, or of stigma and discrimination against women in some societies.

World leaders are meeting from Monday in New York to discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals, the targets that the international community set itself to tackle poverty. And when it comes to Goal Five, regarding maternal health, they won’t have much to say – progress has been slower than on any of the other seven goals.

The new figures show that the annual rate of decline in maternal mortality is less than half of that needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

The result is that for many women in the developing world, getting pregnant is like playing Russsian roulette – in Sierra Leone a woman has a one in eight chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will be at the MDGs summit next week and Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen will meet him tonight, together with other NGOs, to urge him to ensure that the goals to improve maternal health is made a priority. The meeting is at the offices of Mumsnet, where he will be taking part in a live webchat from 8-9pm tonight on this very issue. Go to the Mumsnet site to get involved, or if webchats aren’t your thing, take action on the Amnesty site here.

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