African states say more work needed to reduce maternal deaths

Pregnancy and childbirth-related death rates remain high in African countries and more efforts are needed to spread family planning and girls' education, African leaders and a United Nations organization said Saturday.

Speaking at an event in Yokohama, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said current progress toward reducing the rates "is just simply inadequate" to meet the U.N. target of reducing the maternal death ratio by three quarters globally between 1990 and 2015.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate also pledged more efforts to promote family planning involving deciding when and how many children to have, noting Liberia's high birth rate is well beyond the country's ability to plan for the education and health of its young population.

"It is important to know that improvements in maternal, newborn and child care are critical to overall development of nations," said Malawi President Joyce Hilda Banda, while sharing her own experience of having suffered post-delivery bleeding.

At the same event, hosted by organizations including the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and Japan's Foreign Ministry, Banda called for more investment in girls' education and economic empowerment of women to achieve the goal of reducing maternal mortality rates.

Globally, an estimated 287,000 women died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2010, more than half of them in sub-Sahara Africa. Most died because they had no access to skilled routine and emergency care, according to the UNFPA.

The event to discuss the health of expectant and nursing mothers was held on the sidelines of the three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which got under way Saturday with the participation of leaders and delegates from about 50 African states.