Source AP ©

India has world's highest rate of maternal deaths

U.N. expert reported that India has the highest rate of maternal deaths and said the country must quickly get over a serious shortage of trained health professionals.

Nearly 20 percent of the world's 500,000 women who die annually in childbirth or during pregnancy were Indians, Paul Hunt, a U.N. expert on maternal health who was responsible for this report.

"For a middle-income country of its stature, the rate of maternal deaths is shocking," said Hunt, who visited the western Indian states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra to study the problem.

In India, more than 300 maternal deaths occurred for every 100,000 live births as compared to only 56 deaths in Sri Lanka and 45 each in China and Cuba, he said.

Anemia was one of the key elements behind maternal deaths and the number of pregnant women suffering from the iron deficiency increased to nearly 59 percent last year from about 50 percent a decade ago, he said.

He praised the Indian government for doubling the allocation of funds from less than 1 percent to up to 3 percent of the gross domestic product for the public health sector.

However, bottlenecks in the system have meant that a large percentage of the health budget wasn't used in several areas, he said.

"It is imperative that these bottlenecks are removed as a matter of urgency," Hunt said.

In several parts of the country, lifesaving care was not available to poor women giving birth, compelling them either to go without any care at all or go to the private sector for services that should be publicly available for free, he said.

Indian Health Ministry officials have received his recommendations, but there has been no formal response yet, he said.

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