UNAIDS welcomes new data showing fewer women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth

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UNAIDS welcomes new data showing fewer women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth

UNAIDS pledges continued support for the virtual elimination of mother to-child transmission.

New York/Geneva, 14 April 2010 – UNAIDS welcomes a new report published in the medical journal The Lancet that found, for the first time in decades, a significant drop in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth. Researchers estimate that maternal deaths fell from 526 300 in 1980 to 343 900 in 2008. The news comes while global health leaders gather in New York at the Launch Meeting of the Secretary-General’s Joint Effort on Women’s and Children’s Health.

UNAIDS supports the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a maternal and child health movement. Leaders from UN health agencies, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GAVI Alliance and The Global Fund, committed this week to finding new ways to leverage better global health outcomes for mothers and children.

“This report should give hope to maternal health advocates and the millions of women who give birth each year,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

The study, carried out by the University of Washington, USA, and the University of Queensland, Australia, was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It shows that progress in reducing maternal mortality has been slowed by the ongoing HIV epidemic. Nearly one out of every five maternal deaths— a total of 61,400 in 2008—can be linked to HIV, and many countries with large populations affected by HIV have had the most difficulty reducing their maternal mortality ratio. In South Africa, more than 50% of all maternal deaths are linked to HIV.

“This study serves as a powerful reminder that progress in maternal health efforts is hugely dependent on progress in the AIDS response in countries with the most severe HIV epidemics,” said Mr Sidibé.

HIV is the leading cause of death worldwide among women of reproductive age. An estimated 60% of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa are in women and HIV prevalence among young women aged 15–24 years is, on average, about three times higher than among men of the same age.

Evidence shows that timely administration of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission to their babies; it is a proven, inexpensive, and effective intervention. However, at the end of 2008, only 45% of HIVpositive pregnant women received the necessary treatment in low- and middle-income countries. Progress in this area can only be achieved by improving the quality of data and by integrating programmes which prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children into the broader reproductive health agenda.

UNAIDS is calling for the virtual elimination of HIV transmission from mother-to-child as a bold but concrete goal that can be achieved by the year 2015. Preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission is a key priority area for UNAIDS, as is strengthening HIV services for women and girls.

UNAIDS recently launched a five-year action plan at a high-level panel during the 54th meeting on the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The plan calls on the UN system to support governments, civil society and development partners in reinforcing country actions to put women and girls at the centre of the AIDS response, ensuring that their rights are protected.

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UNAIDS: Saira Stewart
Tel. +41 22 791 2511
E-mail: stewarts@unaids.org