- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

There were more than 300 million unintended pregnancies in the developing world from 1995 to 2000, resulting in the deaths of 700,000 women, a Washington group says in a new report.

"Most of these unintended pregnancies and needless deaths could have been prevented had basic reproductive health services been made available to these women," said Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health Council, which released the report last month.

The report "Promises to keep: The toll of unintended pregnancies on women's lives in the developing world" is a first look at the effect of unintended pregnancies on maternal deaths in developing countries.

"The numbers do not surprise me; this is a very serious problem," said Dr. Robert Black, director and head of the department of international health at Johns Hopkins University.

According to the report, from 1995 to 2000 the world's 1.3 billion women of childbearing age experienced more than 1.2 billion pregnancies, and more than 300 million, about a quarter, of these were unintended.

These unintended pregnancies resulted in the deaths of 700,000 women. More than one-third died from a multitude of complications associated with pregnancy, labor and delivery. More than 400,000 died as a result of complications resulting from abortions carried out in unsafe, unsanitary and often illegal conditions.

"If we make services available to prevent these complications and provide family planning to those who want and need it, we can make a major dent in the number of maternal deaths," said Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The report partly blames the international community's failure to meet commitments made at the 1994 population conference in Cairo for the high incidence of unintended pregnancies.

"These deaths are a reflection of the failure of the international community to live up to the commitments made to the world's women to assure that they will have access to the reproductive health services that could prevent them," Mr. Daulaire said.

The report also highlights the differences between health care available in industrialized nations and in the developing world. In North America and Europe, for instance, one woman in 4,000 is likely to die from maternal causes, whereas in Africa, one in every 15 women is likely to die of these causes.

"There needs to be a broader commitment politically by the United States and other donor countries to provide more resources to poor countries," Dr. Black said.

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