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Secretary-General Ban stressed the need to invest more in the health of women and girls, as he joined former model Christy Turlington Burns for the premiere of her new film documenting the preventable tragedy of maternal mortality.

Hundreds of thousands of women – 99 per cent of them in the developing world – die annually as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. Reducing maternal mortality by three quarters is among the ambitious targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In her directorial debut – 'No Woman, No Cry” – Ms. Turlington shares the powerful stories of at-risk pregnant women in four parts of the world, including a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum of Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the United States.

Mr. Ban called for making 2010 a turning point for women's and children's health in his opening remarks at last night's film screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which brought together ambassadors and leaders from the private sector, civil society and the UN.

“Each year, millions of women and children die needlessly. We know how to save their lives,” he stated. “We can do it with quality health systems, qualified medical staff, information and tools for preventing and treating diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.”

He added that simple and affordable prevention can also go a long way, including through the provision of family planning, vaccines, and bed nets.

“Investing in the health of women and children is one of the best investments we can make,” Mr. Ban stressed. “It is the right thing to do. And it will pay dividends many times over: in peace, in prosperity, in progress.”

The Secretary-General paid tribute to Ms. Turlington for her efforts, which also includes the Every Mother Counts Campaign (everymothercounts.org), to draw attention to maternal health.

“Like many women, I was excited to become a mother and enjoyed being pregnant. But just after delivering my first child, I suffered a serious complication. While I had a birth team that worked quickly to manage the situation, I was shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of women die each year during childbirth – and that 90 per cent of these deaths are preventable,” said Ms. Turlington.

“I hope that by bringing people together, we can help create a mainstream maternal health movement that ensures the lives and well-being of mothers worldwide, for generations to come.”

Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), has also called for investing in women's reproductive health and rights, stressing that this is central to building a peaceful and just society. “Women are central to the economic and physical health of families, communities and nations,” she said.

Addressing a UN panel discussion on global health yesterday, Ms. Obaid noted that some progress is being made, for example, more births today are attended by skilled health personnel and family planning has increased worldwide.

“Yet while early signs of a decline in maternal deaths are promising, the progress is not of the scope and magnitude needed to achieve MDG 5 [reducing maternal mortality] and its two targets,” Ms. Obaid added.

“Today poor sexual and reproductive health remains the leading cause of death in the developing world. This limits life expectancy, hinders educational attainment, diminishes personal capability and productivity, and hampers economic growth.”

She also highlighted the “Health 4 + 1” initiative that her agency is working on with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to speed progress for the health of women, newborns and children in 25 high-priority countries.

“We know that it's only by working together as colleagues and partners, maximizing our complementarities, that sustainable progress can be made in the countdown to 2015,” she stated.

Accra / Ghana/ Africa / Modernghana.com