More than half a million women, mostly in developing nations, die in pregnancy or childbirth each year and the number of deaths is being reduced too slowly to achieve United Nations-set goals, a report issued Friday said.
In 2005, 536,000 women died of maternal causes compared to 576,000 in 1990, according to the report compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank.
Ninety-nine percent of the deaths occurred in developing countries, it said.
The rate of decline of maternal deaths fell far short of the Millenium Development Goals set by the United Nations, which set targets and a deadline of 2015 for halting several trends that contribute to the grinding poverty, hunger and disease that affect billions of people around the world.
Millenium Development Goal number five calls for the maternal mortality ratio -- the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births -- to be cut by 5.5 percent a year until 2015.
The report showed a decline of less than one percent in 2005.
The maternal mortality rate was disproportionately high in developing nations, where there were "450 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, in stark contrast to nine in developed regions," the report said.
"Slightly more than one half of the maternal deaths (270,000) occurred in the sub-Saharan Africa region, followed by South Asia (188,000). Together, these two regions accounted for 86 per cent of the world's maternal deaths in 2005," it said.
The report calls for healthcare for women and access to reproductive health services to be prioritized to help achieve the Millenium goal to vastly improve maternal health.