Nairobi Safe Motherhood Conference Reviews Concerns, Activities to Help Pregnant Women and Mothers

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Nairobi Safe Motherhood Conference reviews concerns, activities to help pregnant women and mothers

EACH year about 500,000women die from causes related to childbearing. Sixty per cent of those deaths occur in South Asia and 30 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa. Maternal mortality is the leading cause of death among young women in many developing countries, and illness and death from childbearing afflict poor women and their families disproportionately.

Concern over maternal health ledthe World Bank, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) to sponsor a Conference on Safe Motherhood in Nairobi, Kenya, from 10 to 13 February. Ministers and officials from 50 developing countries and other leaders in the development field attended.

World Bank President Barber B.Conable told delegates at the opening session that the Bank planned to double its lending for population, health and nutrition activities as part of a six-pronged programme to improve the lot of women in the developing world.

In addition, the Bank planned tohelp establish a Safe Motherhood Fund under WHO's management "to undertake operational research that will support the development of country programmes and projects in the maternal health field'. The Bank planned a contribution of $1 million towards the proposed $5 million three-year budget.

Barbara Herz, the World Bank'sAdviser on Women, said Safe Motherhood means "surviving the pregnancy'. Nearly everyone in the third world wants to have a family, she said. "For women this should be a normal, healthy, joyful part of life.'

But maternal death and ill healthrepresent grave threats to the survival and well-being of women, at the height of their productivity and family responsibility, in much of the developing world. In poor countries, women often ran as much as 100 times greater risk of dying in pregnancy than did women in developed countries.

According to Ms. Herz: "The timeis ripe to launch an initiative to improve maternal health. In the developing countries themselves, three things are required--political commitment to and higher priority for safe motherhood, allocation of the necessary resources to maternal health and family planning services, and supportive activities in other sectors.'

She added: "Clear policy on the priorityof safe motherhood should accompany effective national action in the health sector. Multilateral and bilateral development agencies must give safe motherhood higher priority and stand ready to provide technical and financial assistance to developing countries on request. …