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More Than 2M Infants, Women Die From Childbirth Annually, Study Says

Each year, more than 2 million infants and women around the world die from childbirth-related complications, according to a study released Tuesday at the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics world congress in Cape Town, South Africa, the Associated Press reports. The study is published in the October issue of the federation’s journal.

“Some 1.02 million babies are stillborn and another 904,000 die soon after birth. By comparison, 820,000 children die from malaria and 208,000 die from HIV/AIDS worldwide,” the AP writes. “About 42 percent of the world’s 536,000 maternal deaths also occur during childbirth, according to the study. Deaths in Africa and South Asia account for three-quarters of the maternal and infant deaths.”

The research review – which was led by researchers at Save the Children, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins University with researchers from several other countries – notes that the deaths could be prevented with “better planning and implementation of policies,” the AP writes (Jacobson, 10/6). 

The report also examines how to better handle “60 million neglected home births a year,” Agence France-Presse reports, noting that 600,000 babies every year could survive if health care was improved. The news service notes that “99 percent of baby deaths happen in poor homes in Africa and South Asia in areas with few doctors, resources or equipment.” The study also found that only about 1 million out of 8 million doctors worldwide “work in countries where 77 percent of childbirth deaths occur — and these are focused in urban areas.”

“This massive health gap demands more visibility and it requires more funding,” said Gary Darmstadt of the Gates Foundation. “But it also needs a more aggressive approach to improving the performance of health systems and much stronger commitment to innovation” (10/6).

Joy Lawn, who runs Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives campaign, said that researchers were shocked by the numbers and how little attention the issue receives. “It is seen as women’s business. Stillbirths don’t count. Sometimes the deaths of women don’t even count,” she said. However, she highlighted the strategy in Malawi where 60 percent of births occurred in a clinic or hospital, the AP writes (10/6).

The report identifies five strategies for improving care and reducing the number of deaths from childbirth (Save the Children release, 10/6).