From 407 in 1998 to 301 in 2006, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) that marks the number of women dying at childbirth has been falling in India, albeit gradually.
As India observes National Safe Motherhood Day Wednesday, it hopes to reduce the MMR rate, the number of mothers dying per 100,000 live births, to 100 by 2012.
Aparajita Gogoi of the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), an international body that works to ensure safe motherhood, credits the decrease in maternal deaths to the government's increasing "mother friendly" policies.
India registers one of the highest number of maternal deaths in the world - a whopping 70,000 per year. But Gogoi, the national coordinator of WRA, says even the slow decline in numbers provides a ray of hope.
"If you compare the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) data conducted in 1998, the maternal mortality ratio was 407. By 2006, the number had come down to 301. Now the government aims to bring it down to 100 by the year 2012.
"While the decline is decent yet commendable, our aim is not just to bring down the number of deaths, but to avoid it completely. So yes, I think this is definitely a good, even if slow, start to the ultimate realization of our goal," Gogoi told IANS.
The WRA movement was launched in India in 1999, representing NGOs, donor agencies and committed individuals. To attract national attention towards the issue of safe motherhood, WRA appealed for the declaration of April 11 as National Safe Motherhood Day in 2001, which finally came into being in 2003.
WRA has also been focusing on the issue of training auxiliary nurse midwives (ANM) and lady health visitors (LHV), especially in rural areas, in skills required during childbirth for emergency situations with the support of a functioning health care referral system.
Most of the deaths occurring at childbirth and after are due to lack of adequate medical support.
In response to this, the union health ministry had released guidelines for antenatal care and skilled attendance at birth for ANMs and LHVs on National Safe Motherhood Day in 2005.
"The policies are now more mother friendly and more progressive. In light of all these changes, we hope to bring down the number of maternal deaths to nil very soon," Gogoi said.
WRA plans to set up antenatal care check-up camps and counseling centers for pregnant women in Badarpur area of south Delhi to mark National Safe Motherhood Day this year.
Girls from the area will also stage street plays on the basic theme of safe motherhood.