|Press Release WHO/10
5 February 1999
IMPROVED PUBLIC HEALTH WILL SAVE MILLIONS OF WOMEN'S LIVES, WHO SAYS
The Hague It is "inexcusable" that several hundred thousand women die each year in childbirth, mostly from easily preventable causes, World Health Organization Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said at a ministerial conference on population issues here today.
"Just imagine the costs, to the individual and to society, of the 600,000 women dying every year due to maternal causes, and the 7.6 million perinatal deaths," Dr Brundtland said during a panel discussion on reproductive health.
Ministers from more than 180 nations have gathered at The Hague to evaluate the progress made in the five years since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.
Dr Brundtland said that in the area of maternal mortality, there has been little sign of progress. "In parts of Africa, women face a one in 16 risk of death because they do not receive the care they need when they get pregnant," she said. "By contrast, in most of Europe and North America, such a tragedy will hit only one woman in 4000. No other indicator so starkly reflects the disparities between rich and poor, between the haves and have nots, between the developed and developing worlds."
Most deaths and suffering can be prevented through cheap and simple public health care. But, she warned, unless countries strengthen comprehensive health systems rather than approaching the problems in a piecemeal fashion, progress will not be made.
The blame for the lack of progress can also be attributed to the declining levels of international aid, Dr. Brundtland said. Despite commitments by developed countries to commit 0.7% of their Gross Domestic Product to aid, the current level is 0.2% and still declining.
"I want to be clear about this. Failure to address people's reproductive health needs is a matter of human rights and social justice. People have a right to make free and informed decisions about their reproductive lives. They have a right to information and care that will enable them to protect their health and that of their loved ones. They have a right to benefit from scientific progress in health care."
Between 5% and 15% of the global burden of disease is associated with failures to address reproductive health needs. This burden hits people - particularly women - in the prime of life, it hits when their potential, responsibilities, and productivity are at their highest. Globally, among women of reproductive age, more than 20% of total years of healthy life lost are due to three main groups of reproductive health conditions - sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality and morbidity, and reproductive tract cancers. A further 10% of healthy years of life are lost due to conditions affecting the newborn.
"WHO will address this challenge," Dr Brundtland said. "We interpret the high levels of maternal mortality not only in terms of what they mean for women and children, not only in terms of their disease burden, but in terms of what they tell us about the failure of health systems, policies and programmes to address the essential needs of women."
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