JOHANNESBURG – More than 2 million babies and mothers die worldwide each year as a result of complications during childbirth, according to a study released Tuesday.
The study was launched at the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics world congress being held in Cape Town. The congress is held every three years.
Research for the report was led by Save the Children, the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins University with investigators from a dozen countries.
"The huge numbers hide multiple personal stories of loss," Joy Lawn of Save the Children's Saving Newborn Lives campaign said. "Each death is a tragedy to a family — actually a double tragedy since almost all these deaths could be prevented."
More than 1 million babies are stillborn and another 904,000 die soon after birth. About 42 percent of the world's 536,000 maternal deaths also occur during childbirth, according to the study.
"This is the first time that estimates for the number of deaths occuring during childbirth have been compiled, so we can't say if this number represents an increase or decrease from past years," said Dinah Lord, a spokesperson for Save the Children.
Deaths in Africa and South Asia account for three-quarters of the toll, outnumbering child deaths from malaria and HIV/AIDS worldwide.
Poverty is one of the main causes of these deaths. In wealthier countries most women give birth with a skilled attendant while in poor countries, few women do.
Most deaths also occur in remote rural areas where there are few doctors and nurses. There are almost 8 million doctors in the world, but only 1 million work in the countries where most newborn babies die, the study said.
Each year 60 million of the world's 136 million births occur outside health facilities while only one out of every five babies born in African hospitals are cared for by skilled staff.
"This massive health gap demands more visibility and it requires more funding," said Gary Darmstadt from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "But it also needs a more aggressive approach to improving the performance of health systems and much stronger commitment to innovation."
The report said that many of the deaths could be prevented with improvements in basic health care and training for local health care workers to perform emergency Cesarean deliveries and other lifesaving techniques.
The authors of the research welcomed the $5.3 billion committed by world leaders to maternal and child care at last month's United Nations General Assembly.
"The world will continue to miss the unheard cry of the 230 babies who die every hour from childbirth complications," unless there is better planning and implementation of policies, according to the study.
Save the Children recently launched a campaign that asks people to donate money to the organization, in order to treat and prevent illnesses, the BBC reported.
Campaign director Adrian Lovett told the BBC that a "very small investment" could make a difference.
The agency is hoping to raise $40 billion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.