Every year, approximately 600 000 women die of pregnancy-related causes – 98% of these deaths occur in developing countries. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries. Of all human development indicators, the maternal mortality ratio shows the greatest discrepancy between developed and developing countries. In fact, maternal mortality itself contributes to underdevelopment, because of its severe impact on the lives of young children, the family and society in general. Furthermore, in addition to more than half a million maternal deaths each year 7 million perinatal deaths are recorded and 8 million infants die during the first year of life.
Maternal morbidity and mortality as well as perinatal mortality can be reduced through the synergistic effect of combined interventions, without first attaining high levels of economic development. These include: education for all; universal access to basic health services and nutrition before, during and after childbirth; access to family planning services; attendance at birth by professional health workers and access to good quality care in case of complications; and policies that raise women's social and economic status, and their access to property, as well as the labor force.
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