Means to combat

Peter Salama, the chief of health for Unicef, said: "The tragic fact is that every year more than half-a-million women lose their lives as a result of complications due to pregnancy or childbirth.

"The causes of maternal mortality are clear - as are the means to combat them. Yet women continue to die unnecessarily."

As well as haemorrhaging, which causes one in three maternal deaths in Asia and Africa, the report said that infections, hypertensive disorders, complications of abortion, obstructed labour or HIV/AIDS are other reasons for mortality in pregnancy and childbirth.

It said a combination of family planning, training skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetrical care and post-natal care would combat these easily treatable problems.

However, it added that greater financial resources and political will are needed to instigate such activities.

Successes

The report stated: "Ensuring that skilled personnel are present at all deliveries and that these personnel have access to emergency care where necessary is the most effective means of saving the lives of mothers."

However, there has been some success in reducing the maternal mortality rate.

Coverage of antenatal care in the developing world has risen by 15 per cent in the past decade, with 75 per cent of expectant mothers now receiving some antenatal care.

It said that developing countries, including Sri Lanka and Mozambique, had reduced their maternal mortality rates.