The "shameful" number of deaths in childbirth in the Asia Pacific region,due to a lack of skilled help, has spurred the World Health Organization to call for preventive action.
Shin Young-Soo, WHO director of the Western Pacific region which stretches from Mongolia in the north down to island nations in the south, said that maternal mortality was a black spot on its performance.
Advertisement"Overall we are on track to meet, or even exceed, the health-related goals (for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals) but with one very noticeable exception, maternal mortality," he said.
"I find it shameful that women are still dying in childbirth," Shin told the UN health body's regional meeting in the Malaysian capital. "As we all know, most of these deaths are preventable."
WHO figures show that on average across the region, between 35 to 74 women die in childbirth for every 100,000 live births, with a total 13,000 maternal deaths in 2008.
Shin said that Cambodia, Laos and Papua New Guinea face "particular challenges" in combating maternal deaths, with Cambodia experiencing 300 deaths per 100,000 live births, Laos with 500 and Papua New Guinea 250.
But he praised a Cambodian program to establish a system for villages to report maternal deaths to a national centre, so that health officials can target which areas to help.
He also said that Laos was taking the initiative to provide basic hygiene kits to women who deliver at home.
A discussion document presented at the meeting urged governments to give women's health a higher priority and ensure that no woman dies during pregnancy and childbirth because of inadequate resources.
"Health systems should be strengthened to ensure women have universal access to high-quality reproductive health services... with a focus on providing quality skilled care for women during pregnancy and after childbirth, including emergency obstetric care, comprehensive family planning services and sage abortion services, where legal," it said.
"Despite their greater need, the cost of health care can be unaffordable for women from poor households, especially because out-of-pocket payments comprise an unacceptably high share of health spending in the region."
A lack of privacy or confidentiality and "the biased or unsympathetic attitudes of providers" may also deter women -- particularly those from poor or marginalised groups -- from seeking care, the document added.
Officials said that global figures show a total of 260 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births with 358,000 maternal deaths in 2008.
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