U.N.: African women 175 times more likely to die in childbirth than Western mothers

Monday, October 20th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ African women have a one in 16 chance of dying during childbirth _ a rate 175 times greater than that in the West, the United Nations said Monday.

Most maternal deaths and disability result from delays in recognizing complications, reaching a medical facility or receiving quality care, said the study by the World Health Organization, the Children's Fund and the Population Fund.

``Much of this death and suffering could be avoided if all women had the assistance of a skilled health worker during pregnancy and delivery, and access to emergency medical care when complications arise,'' the study said.

Since accurate figures on maternal mortality are difficult to come by, the agencies developed a way of estimating the number of deaths in countries lacking statistics.

The new method showed that 95 percent of the 529,000 maternal deaths in 2000 occurred in Africa and Asia.

WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook said many African women deliver their children alone or with untrained attendants.

``Skilled attendants are vital because they can recognize and prevent medical crises,'' he said.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy called the death rate ``unacceptably high'' and said there was an urgent need to provide better care, especially in Africa.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the Population Fund, said lives also would be saved if women had access to voluntary family planning.

In 2000, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the death rate per 100,000 live births ranged from 20 women in developed countries to 920 women in sub-Saharan Africa, the agencies said.

The rate in south central Asia was 520 and in southeastern Asia 210.

The rate in Oceania was 240 and in Latin America and the Caribbean 190.

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