Maternal death is preventable

The executive director of the United Nations Population Fund has argued that many commentators do not realise that the leading causes of maternal mortality are "largely preventable" and can be treated cheaply.

Dr Babatunde Osotimehin was responding to a New York Times editorial that claimed the world is unlikely to meet the targets set out by the UN's Millennium Development Goals - which are supposed to be reached by 2015 - without "more intense efforts and money".

He insisted that life-threatening maternal complications such as postpartum bleeding and hypertension can be treated with "inexpensive antibiotics and medicines".

"The tragedy is that these basic, inexpensive supplies - available everywhere and taken for granted in rich countries - are scarce or nonexistent in the poorest ones,"

According to Dr Osotimehin's letter, more than 180,000 mothers could be saved every year if they had access to basic drugs and sterilised medical equipment.

He went on to suggest that as many as one-third of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to family planning.