CAPE TOWN, Oct 6, 2009 (AFP) - Improved health care for women giving birth in poor countries could save about 600,000 of the two million babies who die every year, according to a study released Tuesday.
While most women in developed nations deliver their babies with the help of a skilled attendant, 99 percent of baby deaths happen in poor homes in Africa and South Asia in areas with few doctors, resources or equipment.
The report, published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, was released at an international conference in Cape Town.
"Each year over two million babies and mothers die at birth. The huge numbers hide multiple personal stories of loss. Each death is a tragedy to a family -- actually, a double tragedy since almost all these deaths could be prevented," said Joy Lawn of Save the Children in the United States.
According to the review, 1.02 million babies a year are stillborn during labour and another 904,000 die soon after birth due to birth complications.
The report looks at ways to reach 60 million neglected home births a year, such as developing village transportation to prevent delays in getting mothers to health facilities.
Teaching mid-level health workers to perform caesarian sections and resuscitate non-breathing babies has already worked to reduce deaths in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, it said.
Of the nearly eight million physicians in the world, only about one million work in the countries where 77 percent of childbirth deaths occur -- and these are focused in urban areas, the study found.
Only one out of every five babies born in African hospitals is cared for by staff with the skills and simple equipment to resuscitate them if they do not breathe at birth.
"This is a crucial missed opportunity to save lives," reads the report.
Gary Darmstadt of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said: "This massive health gap demands more visibility and it requires more funding.
"But it also needs a more aggressive approach to improving the performance of health systems and much stronger commitment to innovation."
In a report issued Monday, Save the Children said child deaths around the world could be cut dramatically for just 40 billion dollars (27.2 billion euros) a year, as babies often die from easily treatable diseases.