UNICEF report augurs well for maternal health

Kathmandu, September 20:

Fewer mothers are dying during childbirth than in recent years, according to a new United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report — “Progress For Children” — that monitors progress on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and measures the world’s performance on maternal health.

Issuing a press statement today, the United Nations’ body has stated that women in the South Asian countries are among the least likely to have a skilled birth attendants during delivery.

Only 41 per cent of all births are delivered by health professionals.

The report points out that there has been an improvement in regional coverage from 31 per cent to 40 per cent between 1995 and 2005. The ratio of women in rural Nepal, whose birth was attended by skilled birth health professionals, increased from 8 per cent in 2001 to 14 per cent in 2006.

India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are among 10 countries that account for almost two third of maternal deaths globally, but maternal mortality rates of the South Asian region have dropped by 22 per cent between 1990 and 2005, according to the report.

The recent estimates show the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the world has been reduced by 5.4 per cent from 430 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 400 in 2005.

During the same period, maternal mortality ratio in South Asia has fallen (by 22 per cent) from 650 per 100,000 live births to 500 per 100,000 live births.

Antenatal care coverage in the region is the lowest in the world, but improvements are also proceeding more rapidly than in any other regions, the UN body said.

While 46 per cent of women benefited from one antenatal visit during 1990s, this figure rose to 65 per cent by 2005.

India and Nepal have made progress of 20 or more percentage points, with rural improvements surpassing urban.

Despite these improvements, South Asian countries still accounts for more than one third (187,000) of the estimated 536,000 women who died in 2005 from maternal causes — a higher proportion that any other region in the world. India alone, with an estimated 117,000 deaths in 2005, accounted for about one fifth (22 per cent) of the global total of maternal deaths, according to the report.

Based on the present rate of progress, the release added the world would fall short of meeting the Millennium Development Goal target (5A) of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.