MATERNAL DEATHS WORLDWIDE DROP BY THIRD

The number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased by 34% from an estimated 546 000 in 1990 to 358 000 in 2008, according to a new report, "Trends in maternal mortality", released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.

The progress is notable, but the annual rate of decline is less than half of what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75% between 1990 and 2015. This will require an annual decline of 5.5%. The 34% decline since 1990 translates into an average annual decline of just 2.3%.

"The global reduction in maternal death rates is encouraging news," says Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO. "Countries where women are facing a high risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth are taking measures that are proving effective; they are training more midwives, and strengthening hospitals and health centres to assist pregnant women. No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care."