May 22, 2009 / 6:05 AM / in 9 years

Maternal and newborn survival rates not improving: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Mothers and newborns are no more likely to survive today than two decades ago, with prospects worst in countries battling AIDS, conflict and poverty, the World Health Statistics 2009 report showed on Thursday.

“Maternal mortality is stuck at what it was in 1990,” Ties Boerma, director of the Wolrd Health Orgnaisation’s department of health statistics.

The report showed that most maternal deaths occur in Africa, where the maternal mortality ratio in 2005 was 900 per 100,000 live births compared to 400 per 100,000 globally. That is little changed since 1990.

“Progress in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity depends on better access to, and use of, good maternal and reproductive health services,” the WHO said.

Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said persistent high death rates from pregnancy and childbirth was “an outrage” and the wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said there was no excuse for inaction.

Speaking at the WHO’s annual assembly, Sarah Brown said simple measures before, during, and after delivery could save women’s lives.

Although the number of child deaths had fallen 27 percent globally since 1990, with an estimated 9 million children aged under five dying in 2007, there had been little improvement in the health of newborns, according to the report.

The countries making least progress were those with high levels of AIDS, economic hardship and violence, the WHO said. Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Afghanistan were among the worst for both maternal and child health, according to the report.

“Reducing child mortality increasingly depends on tackling neonatal mortality; globally an estimated 37 percent of deaths among children under five occurs in the first month of life, most in the first week,” the WHO said.

Better immunisation coverage, use of oral rehydration therapies during diarrhoea, access to insecticide-treated mosquito nets and improved water sanitation had helped improve children’s health in many poor countries.

“However, because the availability and use of proven interventions at community level remain low, pneumonia and diarrhoea still kill 3.8 million children under five each year,” the report said.

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