VATICAN CITY (CNS): Efforts to reduce infant mortality around the world are showing positive results, but maternal death rates remain very high in many developing nations, according to a report by the Vatican news agency Fides.
In addition, the number of neonatal deaths – babies who die within 28 days of birth – is improving but at a very slow rate, the report said.
The document demonstrated the huge gulf that continues between industrialised and poorer countries in maternal, neonatal and pediatric care.
Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, issued a dossier on August 27 that summarised statistics from international organisations, including UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Infant mortality, defined as child deaths before they reach the age of five, claimed an estimated 9.2 million lives in 2007, the dossier said.
That number is a significant improvement from 1990 when death claimed about 13 million children under five. The hardest-hit areas remain sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, while the greatest improvement came in South East Asia and North Africa.
According to the dossier, improvements were concentrated in the more affluent areas of society, in urban areas and among children whose mothers had some schooling.
The dossier quoted a UNICEF report showing that 536,000 women died because of problems related to pregnancy and childbirth, again concentrated in the least-developed parts of the world.
“A woman from one of the least-developed countries is at a 300 times greater risk of dying in her lifetime because of pregnancy and birth-related complications than a woman in an industrialised country,” the dossier said.
Little progress has been made, it said, toward the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015, because of the lack of significant improvement in investment in health facilities and medicines and the lack of qualified personnel in developing countries.
Efforts to educate and test women for AIDS in such countries have made some inroads but much needs to be done, the report said.
The health of the mother naturally influences greatly the health of the baby both before and after he or she is born, and a baby whose mother dies giving birth has a much smaller chance of survival in situations of poverty, according to the Fides report.
It said neonatal deaths reached 3.7 million in 2004, the latest year statistics were available from the World Health Organisation. Of that number, the percentage of new-borns who die within one day is at least 25 per cent, while 75 per cent of such deaths occur within the first week.
The main causes for deaths in these situations are hunger or malnutrition, lack of prenatal care, little access to qualified medical personnel, shortages in testing equipment and medicines, and failure to carry out vaccinations.
Other causes include social and cultural factors, such as pregnancies in adolescents; girls under the age of 18 who have babies run a much greater risk of either dying in childbirth or losing their children at an early age.