- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004


COTONOU, Benin - More than 500 gynecologists from all over the continent discussed this week the extremely high rate of maternal mortality in Africa, which has the highest rate in the world of deaths before, during and immediately after childbirth.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), women in sub-Saharan Africa face a one in 13 chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth, while the risk for women in the industrialized world is one in more than 4,000.

The doctors were attending a three-day seminar organized by the African Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

The main reasons for the high death rate, according to experts, include lack of access to obstetrical care; a lack of family planning; lack of hygiene and infection control; and lack of prenatal and postnatal care. The United Nations says that little more than half of women in the developing world give birth with the help of trained doctors or midwives.

Kamou Tia, a doctor from Benin, said the problem in his country is similar to the situation in the rest of Africa. Many deaths are caused, he said, by post-delivery bleeding, sexual infections and high blood pressure.

According to U.N. statistics, 529,000 women died of birth-related causes in the year 2000, overwhelmingly in developing countries. Of these, more than half — 270,000 — died in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of maternal deaths in the developed countries that year was fewer than 2,500.

The World Health Organization says African women give birth between four and eight times in their lifetime, and can expect to spend between 35 percent and 50 percent of their procreative years in dealing with the obligations of pregnancy, childbirth and lactation.

In setting a series of millennium development goals in 2000, U.N. member countries and international organizations called for a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality between 1990 and 2015, but most of Africa is far behind the target.

In a statistical survey, WHO and UNICEF compared the 24 deaths per 100,000 live births in Europe in 2000 with the average of 920 deaths per 100,000 in Africa.

The countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios are all in Africa, UNICEF reported. It said the top 12, with rates of 1,300 or more deaths per 100,000 live births are, in descending order, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Angola and Kenya. In all, 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have rates of 1,000 deaths or more per 100,000.

UNICEF listed only one country outside Africa — Haiti — as having more than 1,000 maternal fatalities per 100,000 live births.

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