WEDNESDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The number of women worldwide who die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased 34 percent in the past 20 years, but more needs to be done to reduce the 1,000 maternal deaths that still occur each day, says a report released Wednesday.

The estimated number of maternal deaths declined from 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008. While that 34 percent decrease is encouraging, it works out to an average annual decline of 2.3 percent, which is less than half of the average 5.5 percent annual decline required to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target of a 75 percent reduction between 1990 and 2015.

In 2008, about 1,000 pregnant women died each day from four major causes: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders, and unsafe abortion. Of those 1,000 women, 570 were in sub-Saharan Africa, 300 in South Asia, and five in high-income countries.

Women in developing countries are 36 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than women in developed nations, said the report, released by the World Health Organization, the United Nation's Children's Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, and the World Bank.

Among the other findings:

    
  • Maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa decreased 26 percent between 1990 and 2008, while maternal deaths in Asia decreased 52 percent, from 315,000 to 139,000.
  • Developing nations accounted for 99 percent of all maternal deaths, with 57 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 30 percent in South Asia.
  • "The global reduction in maternal deaths is encouraging news," WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in an agency news release. "Countries where women are facing a high risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth are taking measures that are proving effective; they are training more midwives, and strengthening hospitals and health centers to assist pregnant women. No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care."

    UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in the news release: "To achieve our global goal of improving maternal health and to save women's lives we need to do more to reach those who are most at risk. That means reaching women in rural areas and poorer households, women from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, and women living with HIV and in conflict zones."

    More information

    The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about health problems in pregnancy.