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UN moves to improve health care in Latin America

UN agency calls for steps to improve health care in Latin America and Caribbean

A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report on progress made toward meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Latin America and the Caribbean has recommended a number of steps to improve health care in region, while noting that area’s maternal mortality ratio statistics masked serious problems, including a lack of reliable sources for detecting and recording deaths.

The report said the maternal mortality ratio in the region, at an average 190 deaths per 100,000 births for the past decade, was not among the highest in the world. But there was considerable underreporting of deaths, particularly in the case of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, the UNFPA statement said.

The MDGs are a set of eight targets drawn up at the UN Millennium Summit five years ago to slash a host of socio-economic ills by 2015, including halving extreme poverty and hunger, cutting child mortality rates by two-thirds, and achieving universal primary education and access to health services.

UNFPA noted in a statement that the statistics also revealed huge disparities in maternal mortality within the region. A small group of countries – Uruguay, Chile, Cuba, St. Lucia, Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica – had mortality levels below 50 deaths per 100,000 births, while Haiti had the most alarming rates in the region by far with 520 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. The UNFPA also made the following recommendations:

A substantial reduction in unequal access to health care, often linked to poverty, gender, race, ethnicity and age;

Better health care coverage under social protection plans;

Increased public sector spending on health care;

Re-orientation towards a new primary health-care strategy that encourages active involvement by users;

Improvements in public health infrastructure, such as hospitals and medical equipment;

Establishing policies and taking actions that have real impact in achieving the health targets laid down in the Millennium Development Goals.

The report was presented by Mexican President Vicente Fox and several UN agencies in Mexico City today.

“Maternal mortality is closely linked to the issues of women’s rights and poverty. It provides an indicator of gender inequities. The problem is therefore much bigger than just a health issue,” said Rogelio Fernandez Castilla, Director of the UNFPA’s Country Support Team, based in Mexico.

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