The shocking statistic has emerged in a report by three United Nations agencies, which also reveals one in 16 women in Africa, do not survive a pregnancy.

The story is quite different in Europe, North America and Australia where the average is only one in 2800, according to a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UNICEF children's agency, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

"These new estimates indicate ... an urgent need for increased access to emergency obstetric care, especially in sub-Saharan Africa," said UNICEF Director-General in a comment issued with the report.
 
"Many women deliver their children alone or with family members or other untrained attendants who lack the skills to deal with complications during delivery," said WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook.
 
And Thoraya Ahmad Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, said many lives could be saved if women had better access to voluntary family planning.

Worst records
 
In the year 2000, the report said, just under 530,000 women around the world died during pregnancy or childbirth, 95% of them in Africa or Asia 4% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and only 1%t in developed countries.

The two countries with the worst record were Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, both suffering from years of civil strife, where the risk of death among pregnant women was one in six.

Sierra Leone and Afghanistan were the two countries with the worst record of risk of death among pregnant women

In Angola, Malawi and Niger, it was one in seven. In Asia Japanese women have an only one in 6000 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth and in South Korea one in 2800, in China one in every 830 die, one in 660 in Malaysia, one in 48 in India, one in 31 in Pakistan and one in 24 in Nepal.

Safest countries

The report showed Sweden is by far the safest country for maternity in 2000 when only two women died - an overall risk rate of one in 29,800.

Slovakia, Spain and Austria were next with rates from one in nearly 20,000, one in 17,400 and one in 16,000.

Canada recorded only 20 deaths, a rate of one in 8700, but in the United States there were 660, at one in 2500 pregnancies a rate well below the overall richer world average.

In Britain, there were 85 deaths, a risk rate of one in 3300.

Reasons

The report did not discuss reasons for the relatively high rate in the United States or the sharp differences in the rate between developed countries.

In Latin America, the death risk rate for Chilean women, based on the year 2000 figures, was one in 1100, for Argentina one in 410, for Mexico one in 370, for Brazil one in 140 and for Nicaragua one in 88.

In Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, it was one in 29 - but still lower than most of sub-Saharan Africa.