Washington -- The
United Nations is recommending a number of steps to improve
health care in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a particular
focus on reducing the number of mothers in the region who
die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
In an August 22 statement, the U.N. Population
Fund (UNFPA) called for a substantial reduction in unequal
access to health care, which the agency said is often linked
to poverty, gender, race, ethnicity, and age. Other steps
call for better health-care coverage under social protection
plans, and increased public-sector spending on health care.
The recommendations were issued in a report
called "The Millennium Development Goals: a Latin American
and Caribbean Perspective," which says maternal mortality
levels vary widely in Latin America and the Caribbean. Such
countries as Uruguay, Chile, St. Lucia, Costa Rica and Brazil
have mortality levels below 50 deaths per 100,000 births,
while Haiti has by far the most "alarming" rates
in the region, with 520 maternal deaths per 100,000 births,
said the UNFPA.
The UNFPA said there was "considerable
underreporting" of maternal mortality deaths in the
region, particularly among indigenous peoples and among
people of African descent.
Rogelio Fernandez Castilla, director of
UNFPA's Country Support Team, based in Mexico, where the
report was released August 22, said: "Maternal mortality
is closely linked to the issues of women's rights and poverty.
It provides an indicator of gender inequities. The problem
is therefore much bigger than just a health issue."
The UNFPA noted that the report also says
that Latin America and the Caribbean need to make improvements
in public-health infrastructure, such as hospitals and medical
equipment, and in establishing policies and taking actions
that have a real effect in achieving the health targets
laid down in the Millennium Development Goals.
The millennium goals are a set of eight
targets drawn up by the United Nations in 2000 to slash
a host of socio-economic ills by 2015. Those targets include
cutting -- by 50 percent -- extreme poverty and hunger,
cutting maternal mortality rates by three-fourths, and achieving
universal primary education and access to health services.
is available on the U.N.’s Economic Commission for
Latin America and the Caribbean Web site.
For its part, the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) is working with the UNFPA and six other
international groups on a plan to reduce maternal mortality
in the Western Hemisphere.
The goal of the plan, announced in February
2004, is to prevent 23,000 maternal deaths annually in the
region. The other agencies involved in the plan are the
Pan American Health Organization, the U.N. Children's Fund,
the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, Family
Care International, and the Population Council.
USAID has been heavily engaged in the Americas
and elsewhere to prevent maternal deaths. The agency says
that a woman's death during childbirth often means death
for her newborn.
The agency says that each year, nearly 600,000
women globally die needlessly during pregnancy and childbirth,
with 90 percent of these deaths occurring in the developing
USAID works to prevent maternal deaths through
programs providing nutrition for mothers and children, by
providing help for families to prepare for a healthy birth,
by ensuring safe delivery of babies and postpartum and newborn
care, by improving the management of pregnancy complications,
and by preventing unintended pregnancies.
For additional information, see The
Washington File Staff Writer