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1,600 women a day die giving birth, U.N. says

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Pregnancy is among the leading causes of death among women in developing countries, claiming about 1,600 lives a day, a new study says.

Nearly 585,000 women in developing countries die each year from complications from pregnancy or childbirth, according to the study by the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University.

The figure is an increase of nearly 20 percent over previous estimates, according to the study.

"It would seem that the process of bringing new life into the world is one of the leading causes of death and morbidity among young women in developing countries," said Marta MaurDas, UNICEF's director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The study said chronic hemorrhaging and blood-poisoning were the top two causes of pregnancy-related deaths, followed by botched abortions and brain or kidney damage stemming from convulsions or severe toxemia.

In addition to the high cost in lives, the study said at least 1-million children are orphaned every year because of the women who die during childbirth.

To help stem the number of deaths, MaurDas called for improved family planning services, which she said could reduce the number of pregnancies by 20 percent. She also cited the need for a dramatic improvement in health services and nutritional standards.

The study is part of UNICEF's annual report on worldwide health called "The Progress of Nations." It noted that 2-million young women in Egypt and Africa are subjected to female genital mutilation every year _ a practice that greatly increases the risk of life-threatening childbirth complications.