HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc946-7W
Mr. Bercow

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development (1) what steps he is taking to meet the Millennium Development goals to reduce the level of maternal mortality among developing countries; [148083]

(2) what further action he proposes to take to help to achieve an increase in the proportion of births assisted by skilled birth attendants from 49 per cent. to 67 per cent. [148137]

Hilary Benn

I will answer questions 7107 and 7507 together.

Globally well over half a million women die in childbirth each year. A further 1.5 million women are left with a disability as a result of complications in childbirth and two million children are orphaned. The 5th Millennium Development Goal of improving maternal health has a target to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015. One proxy indicator of progress against this target is the proportion of births assisted by skilled birth attendants. This is reflected in DFID's Public Service Agreement Targets.

Improvement in the proportion of births assisted by skilled attendants has been a key feature in countries where the maternal mortality ratio has been reduced. Skilled attendance means the presence of a professional with midwifery skills, supported by the necessary supplies and systems. Also important is a functioning referral system, able to provide rapid access to life saving skills and procedures in the event of an emergency. The reality in many developing countries falls far short of this and most women deliver alone or with a family member or traditional birth attendant.

DFID is committed to reducing the toll of maternal death and to promoting women's right to a safe pregnancy and childbirth. The Department's strategy includes advocacy in the international arena, support to countries to strengthen health systems and improve access to maternal and reproductive health services, and support for research and improved measurement tools. Since 1997 the Department has committed approximately £1.5 billion to help developing countries put in place effective health care systems which are vital if maternity services are to be improved. DFID has specific bilateral programmes to promote safe motherhood in Nepal, Malawi and Kenya, which include work to improve access to skilled attendants with the necessary accompanying improvements in access to emergency obstetric care. DFID also supports the maternal health work of international multilateral agencies, including WHO, and international NGOs.

DFID is participating in a new international partnership for Safe Motherhood and Newborn Health and supports a number research programmes to improve the evidence base on effective interventions to reduce maternal mortality including the Initiative for Maternal Mortality Programme Assessment (IMMPACT) with the Gates Foundation, USAID and the EC.

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