"Despite two decades of efforts the world failed to make a dent," said Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, and member of a taskforce overseeing the UN-backed campaign for the Health Millennium Development Goals.
Chan blamed "decades of failure to invest" in the infrastructure needed for safe births, including qualified birth attendants and even transport to hospitals.
"Many women die at home because they have no transport," she said.
The taskforce, also including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, World Bank president Robert Zoellick and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, called for billions more dollars in aid.
"To save three million mothers and seven million newborns -- and meet these goals -- an extra 2.4 billion dollars in 2009 rising to seven billion dollars in 2015 will be needed," the world leaders said in a statement.
But Zoellick warned that the unfolding financial crisis in world markets could have an impact on programs. He said he was "concerned."
Norweigan Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg described the current situation as "the biggest expression of brutality to women I can imagine."