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U.N. Recommends Steps to Improve Health Care in Americas

Calls for reducing maternal mortality, improved access to health care

Posted: August 23, 2005

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.

The report 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 world.

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 Americas.

Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer







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