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U.S.: Hillary Clinton Promotes Safe Motherhood

Washington, 8 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton says governments, voluntary agencies and local leaders around the world need to join forces and resources to develop sound health care strategies that promote safe motherhood.

Clinton made the statement Tuesday in Washington during a speech at the World Bank to mark World Health Day.

The World Bank is part of a global consortium formed in 1987 to promote maternal and child health care called the Inter-Agency Task Force on Safe Motherhood. Among the members of the task force are the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Population Council.

Clinton congratulated the task force on ten years of "extraordinary service," but she says a lot still remains to be done.

She says in the past ten years since the task force was formed, one of the most important lessons learned was that reducing maternal mortality requires sustained long-term commitments from a full range of partners. Those partners, she says, include governments, non-governmental agencies, local leaders, international aid organizations and committed individuals.

Says Clinton: "We have the strategies, we have the resources, but we do not yet have the collective will to do what we know needs to be done. The result is that women in every nation in the world, including [the U.S.], lack basic health care that could save their lives and ensure the health of themselves and their babies."

Clinton says statistics show that every year more than 600,000 women worldwide die in childbirth. Not surprising, she adds, the maternal mortality is 150 to 200 times greater in poor nations than in rich ones.

Those deaths are directly related to high levels of poverty and the low status of women in many developing countries, says Clinton. In order to change this, she adds, nations all over the world must work to increase the social, economic and educational status of women.

Clinton says the truth about maternal deaths and complications arising from pregnancies is "shocking."

Says Clinton: "Every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Every minute 190 women face an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, and every minute 110 women experience a pregnancy-related complication."

Clinton adds that the tragedy of the over 600,000 women dying in childbirth is compounded by the "simple yet unbearable truth" that the vast majority of these deaths, and the suffering created by them, could have been avoided.

Clinton says investments in education for women can have a "profound and concrete effect on women's health, as well as on the prosperity of their families, society and country." She adds that if this message is conveyed to all people in every walk of life, then the world will ultimately be able to address the challenges of women's lives.

The most important of those challenges, says Clinton, is keeping mothers alive so they can nurture their children and provide stability and comfort to communities and society as a whole.

Clinton says the past ten years of work by the task force has shown that the cost of promoting good maternal care is quite cost effective.

Clinton explains: "The World Bank estimates that by spending two dollars a year per person for maternal health care, almost all of the 600,000 women who now die as a result of complications during pregnancy and childbirth would be alive and the lives of two million infants would be saved."

Clinton says it is imperative that governments ensure that women receive adequate prenatal care, good nutrition, and quality obstetric care so that "childbearing and childbirth is a safe and health period in a woman's life."

It is also important, says Clinton, for the international community to do all that it can to make certain every women in every nation is given the opportunity to speak for herself. She adds this includes being sure that women feel empowered as citizens of the increasing numbers of democracies now emerging around the world.

Clinton concludes: "We must continue to make it clear that we will do all we can, renewing our commitment on this World Health Day, to protect and nurture the lives of every woman and child on this globe. There is no better goal than to make sure that the most important, most blessed, most sacred event in any woman's live -- giving birth to the next generation -- can be as safe and protected as it can be anywhere in the world."