UNICEF: Extreme Risks for Pregnant Women and Newborn Babies in Developing Countries
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UNICEF: Extreme Risks for Pregnant Women and Newborn Babies in Developing Countries

New Delhi, 15 January 2009: Women in the world’s least developed countries are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than women in developed countries, according to UNICEF’s latest State of the World’s Children report, released today. 

At the same time, a child born in a developing country is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a child born in a developed one.

In India, more than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in a handful of states: Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam. Despite an increase in institutional deliveries, 60 percent of pregnant women still deliver their babies at home.

The health and survival of mothers and their newborns are linked, and many of the interventions that save new mothers’ lives also benefit their infants. The 2009 edition of UNICEF’s flagship publication, The State of the World’s Children, highlights the link between maternal and neonatal survival, and suggests opportunities to close the gap between rich and poor countries.

“We know what needs to be done to save the lives of the 78,000 women who die from pregnancy and childbirth each year in India. In addition, about one million neonatal deaths occur here annually,” said Dr. Karin Hulshof, UNICEF India Representative “The health and survival of mothers and their newborns are intrinsically linked, and many of the same interventions that save maternal lives also benefit their infants. Primary health care that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn and child health must be made available to all of India’s most vulnerable women and children so they can survive and thrive.”

Dr. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, Member of the Planning Commission of the Government of India, launched the report and called on all partners to advocate for improved maternal and neonatal health. She was joined on the dais by Bollywood actress Ms. Raveena Tandon, who came from Mumbai to lend her voice to the cause of mothers and their children.

“Rapid progress is possible when sound strategies, political commitment, adequate resources and collaborative efforts are applied in support of the health of both mothers and newborns,” Dr. Hameed said. “To lower infant and maternal mortality, essential services must be provided at key points in the life cycle through dynamic health systems that integrate a continuum of home, community, outreach and facility-based care. Women and children make up about two-thirds of the population of India and their wellbeing is essential to our development.”

Both mothers and infants are vulnerable in the days and weeks after birth – a critical time for life-saving interventions, such as post-natal visits, proper hygiene, and counseling about the danger signs of maternal and newborn health.

While many developing countries have made excellent progress in improving their child survival rate in recent years, there has been less headway in reducing maternal mortality.

India has cut its under five mortality rate from 117 to 72 between 1990 and 2007. Neonatal deaths contribute to 50 per cent of these under five deaths.

The same progress has not been made in addressing health risks for mothers, who are most vulnerable during delivery and in the first days after birth. In India, states show disparity in the maternal mortality rates. While UP has a maternal mortality rate of 517 which almost comparable to Sudan which is at 550, in Kerala the MMR is only 110. In the developing world, a woman has a 1 in 76 lifetime risk of maternal death, compared with a probability of 1 in 100 lifetime risk of maternal death in India.

Approximately 99 percent of global deaths arising from pregnancy and complications occur in the developing world, where having a child remains among the most serious health risks for women.  The vast majority occur in Africa and Asia, where high fertility rates, a shortage of trained personnel and weak health systems spell tragedy for many young women.

And for every woman who dies, another 20 suffer illnesses or injury, often with severe and lasting consequences. 

This continuum of care concept transcends the traditional emphasis on single, disease-specific interventions, calling instead for a model of primary health care that embraces every stage of maternal, newborn and child health.

The report finds that health services are most effective in an environment supportive of women’s empowerment, protection, and education.


UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments

Attention broadcasters:

Video footage is available free of charge at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef

For more information, and interviews, please contact:

Angela Walker, Chief of Communication, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-6093, E-mail: awalker@unicef.org

Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-1810-5861; E-mail: gmaster@unicef.org

Alistair Gretarsson, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India
Tel: +91-98-7153-5586; E-mail: agretarsson@unicef.org


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