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PLoS Blog Responds To U.N.'s Newly Released Maternal Mortality Estimates

Newly released “estimates of maternal mortality from the United Nations’ Maternal Mortality Estimation Inter-Agency Group (MMEIG) are good news — but not good enough,” Peter Byass, professor of global health at Umea University in Sweden and director of the Umea Centre for Global Health Research, writes in this post in the PLoS “Speaking of Medicine” blog. He briefly discusses the pros and cons of using “estimates” for maternal mortality data, and he concludes, “There is a risk involved for every woman who gets pregnant. But the global community has the knowledge and resources to manage those risks and minimize adverse consequences. Why can’t we stop mothers dying?” (5/16).

Maternal Deaths Drop By Nearly Half Worldwide Over 20 Years; Greater Progress Still Needed, U.N. Reports

“The number of women dying of pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications has almost halved in 20 years, according to new estimates released [on Wednesday] by the United Nations, which stressed that greater progress is still needed in significantly reducing maternal deaths,” the U.N. News Centre reports (5/16). “The report, ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010,’ shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 — a decline of 47 percent,” a UNFPA press release states (5/16). However, “[w]hile substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal death by 75 percent through 2015,” Inter Press Service writes (Deen, 5/16). “Countries in Eastern Asia have made [the] most progress on improving the health of expectant and new mothers, said the report,” Agence France-Presse adds (5/16).

Lawmakers Discuss UNFPA In China At Hearing On Activist Chen Guangcheng

At a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Human Rights hearing “on blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng and his campaign against Chinese human-rights abuses,” “Republican and Democratic lawmakers clashed Tuesday over the effects of” the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) on China’s so-called “one-child policy,” The Hill’s “Global Affairs” blog reports. “Chen’s escape from house arrest last month is drawing renewed attention to the [UNFPA], which a Republican-controlled House panel voted last week to defund in their annual spending bill for foreign aid,” the blog writes. “Democrats say the U.N. Population Fund enables millions of women around the world to have access to contraception, prenatal care and screenings,” the blog writes, adding, “The program, however, is controversial because it operates in China, whose single-child policy is seen as incompatible with U.S. notions of human rights” (Pecquet, 5/15).

Treating Prenatal Maternal Infections Could Improve Birth Outcomes, Study Suggests

Clinical trials are underway to test an azithromycin-based combination treatment for pregnant women, “which could tackle some of the leading preventable causes of death for babies in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who published a report on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showing that “[a] large number of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with both malaria and sexually transmitted/reproductive tract infections (STIs/RTIs),” AlertNet reports (Mollins, 5/15). “The researchers looked at 171 studies from sub-Saharan Africa over a 20-year period, which showed whether women attending antenatal clinics were infected with malaria, or with a range of sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections — syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and bacterial and parasitic infections of the vagina,” IRIN writes, adding, “If left untreated, these can lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and low birthweight babies” (5/16).

Women's Rights To Family Planning Should Not Be Controversial

“There should be #NoControversy about a woman’s right to plan when and how many children to have, to have the opportunity to improve her own health and that of her children, to educate her children and to grow her family’s economic productivity,” Gary Darmstadt, head of the family health division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Wendy Prosser, a research analyst with the family health division, write in this post in the foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. The authors highlight a recent TEDxChange talk by Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation, in which “she addresses the issues surrounding birth control and how it is literally life-saving for millions of women and children around the world.” They continue, “But of course, any time politics, religion, and sex are intertwined, controversy tends to emerge,” and discuss several viewpoints that have emerged in media coverage of the issue (5/14).

International Community Should Unite To Ensure Adequate Family Planning Services For Women In West Africa, Globally

“For many years, in large parts of West Africa, the percentage of women who use contraception has stalled at less than 10 percent, leading many to declare that there is very little or no demand for family planning (FP) in the region. This couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Catharine McKaig, project director of family planning at the Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP), the USAID Bureau for Global Health’s flagship maternal, neonatal and child health program, writes in a post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. “Among women — young and old, those who have had many children and those who have had few or none — there is a sea-change happening. These women are expressing their desire for family planning methods, and our approach towards integrating maternal and child health care services with FP is producing results,” she writes, concluding, “It is an optimal moment to unite as a community supporting women’s health worldwide to ensure adequate supply and minimal cost for family planning services to the hundreds of thousands of women in West Africa who are seeking care” (5/10).