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Experts call on countries of the Americas to keep the promise of safe motherhood

Over 9,000 women die each year in Latin America and the Caribbean from pregnancy-related causes

Washington, D.C., Sept. 27, 2010 (PAHO) — A coalition of experts worried about slow progress toward ensuring safe motherhood for all women in the Americas today called on countries to redouble their efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5: reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths between 1990 and 2015 and achieving universal access to reproductive health by the year 2015.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and partner organizations launched the new “Safe Motherhood Initiative” during the 50th meeting of the PAHO Directing Council, in which ministers of health from throughout the Western Hemisphere are participating this week.   

“The goal of this initiative is to promote and protect the right of women, mothers, and newborns to enjoy the highest possible level of health,” said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses.

Maternal mortality declined by 41 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1990 and 2008, according to United Nations and World Bank estimates. But the region still has far to go to achieve the 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality agreed upon by 189 of the world’s countries.  

Despite significant progress in the past 20 years, an estimated 1 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean give birth each year without skilled care, and 744,000 pregnant women go without prenatal care. Some 9,200 women die each year in the region from pregnancy-related causes.

The Safe Motherhood Initiative proposes action and advocacy in the following areas to speed progress toward achieving MDG-5:

  • Ensure comprehensive reproductive health care, including family planning and post-abortion care, and prevention of and treatment for gender-based violence
  • Expand social protection, especially for adolescents and excluded women in the areas of maternal and neonatal health
  • Improve the quality of prenatal, childbirth and postpartum care through investments and training for providers
  • Reduce unsafe abortions
  • Include contraceptives, including emergency contraceptives, in the list of essential drugs
  • Review laws on sexual and reproductive health
  • Empower and support women to exercise their right to make their own reproductive decisions
  • Encourage the participation of fathers and men, families, and the community in efforts to promote safe motherhood.

The Safe Motherhood Initiative is supported by the members of the Regional Working Group for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (GTR), which include PAHO/WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, the World Bank, USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Confederation of Midwives; and by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the “la Caixa” Foundation of Spain.

Today’s launch took place at the historic OAS building and featured comments by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza; Her Royal Highness Infanta Cristina of Spain, director of the International Cooperation Program of the “la Caixa” Foundation; Marcela Suazo, regional director of UNFPA and secretary of the GTR; and Dr. Mirta Roses, director of PAHO.

“This initiative is being launched at a good moment, since last week in New York, the General Assembly of the United Nations underscored its concern that the lack of progress in reducing maternal mortality at the global level is one of the fundamental barriers to poverty reduction and sustainable development,” said OAS Secretary-General Insulza. “The OAS pledges its full support to this joint initiative.”

Marcela Suazo, of UNFPA, also pledged her support, as did Infanta Cristina of Spain, “because together we join forces and together we get better and faster results in global health.”

The launch also included the opening of Motherhood, an exhibit of photographs of women and their children by Spanish photojournalist Bru Rovira, sponsored by the “la Caixa” Foundation. Other activities planned as part of the initiative include national and regional photography and “best practices” contests promoting safe motherhood, and regional and national technical symposiums to strengthen the roles and knowledge of health personnel, civil society organizations, legislators, judges and others in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and human rights instruments that protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The PAHO Directing Council brings together ministers of health and other high-level delegates from throughout the Americas each year to set priorities for Pan-American cooperation in health and to guide PAHO’s technical cooperation programs in its Member States.

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