UN: $24 billion could slash infant, maternal deaths

Thu Dec 3, 2009 7:01am EST

* Spending needs to be doubled to $24 billion to cut deaths

* Report says basic health services would save many lives

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70 percent and newborn deaths cut by hearly half if investment in family planning and pregnancy care was doubled, the United Nations said on Thursday.

A U.N.-backed report said investments in family planning and birth control would boost the effectiveness spending on pregnancy and newborn health care, suggesting investing in both together could achieve "dramatic" results.

"Investing in a handful of basic health services, like family planning and routine delivery care, can save millions of women and babies," said Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank which studies reproductive health and which released the report with the U.N Populations Fund (UNFPA).

"It's not rocket science. These are mostly simple services that can be provided inexpensively at the local level, supplemented by provision of urgent care when needed."

Experts estimate that more than half a million new mothers and 3.5 million newborn babies die in developing countries each year and say many of those deaths are easily preventable.

The report said doubling current spending to $24.6 billion would prevent the early deaths of almost 400,000 women and 1.6 million babies, cut unintended pregnancies by more than two-thirds and reduce by 75 percent the number of unsafe abortions and resulting complications.

A report released in October said unsafe abortions kill 70,000 women each year and maim millions more. [ID:nLC332921]

The international community currently spends around $12 billion a year on family planning and maternal health programmes in developing nations, according to the report.

Yet studies still show that some 215 million women who want to avoid pregnancy do not have effective contraception, and only about half of the 123 million women who give birth each year receive the antenatal, delivery and newborn care they need.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA said doubling the investment and focusing it on both birth control and health care would produce a "win-win situation".

"We know what must be done, we know what it will cost, and we now know that the needed investment is modest in relation to the vast benefits that will follow," she said in the report. (Editing by Ralph Boulton) ((kate.kelland@thomsonreuters.com; +44 (0)207 542 0823))

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