Maternal Mortality, AIDS Leading Causes of Death for Women Worldwide; Investment in Gender Equality Needed, UNFPA Report Says
More than 500,000 women died from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth in 2000, but 99% of those maternal deaths were preventable, according to the U.N. Population Fund's "State of World Population 2005" report released on Wednesday, BBC News reports (BBC News, 10/12). Reproductive health problems, including HIV/AIDS, are the leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 44 and are responsible for approximately 250 million years of productive life lost annually, the report says (Lawless, AP/ABC News, 10/12). Experts said that most maternal deaths are preventable through family planning that provides access to contraceptives, skilled workers attending to births and improved access to emergency obstetric care when necessary (BBC News, 10/12). An estimated 76 million unplanned pregnancies and 19 million unsafe abortions occur worldwide annually (UNFPA release, 10/12). About half of the approximately 40 million HIV-positive people worldwide are women, and prevalence is rising among women, especially young women, according to the report (Daily Mail, 10/12). Women ages 15 to 24 are 1.6 times as likely to be HIV-positive as their male counterparts, the reports says (BBC News, 10/12).
The report says that improving gender equality and investing in the health and education of women and youth could lead to lower HIV prevalence rates, smaller families, and healthier, more literate children, Reuters reports. "It is time to call for action to free women from discrimination, violence and poor health they face in their daily lives," UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid said, adding, "If we don't invest in women's education and health and their ability to plan their family, we are not allowing them to be able to contribute to the economic sector" (Reaney, Reuters, 10/12). The estimated cost of achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals -- which include stemming the HIV/AIDS pandemic, halving extreme poverty, promoting gender equality and reducing maternal mortality -- would be $135 billion in 2006, rising to $195 billion in 2015 (AP/ABC News, 10/12). Providing social infrastructure alone will not solve the problem, Steve Kraus, head of the HIV/AIDS branch of UNFPA, said, adding, "When we benefit women in a just and free society, all of society benefits. When we suppress women, society loses" (Cheong-won, Korea Times, 10/12).