NEW YORK - Amnesty International activated a "maternal death clock" in Times Square today to send a powerful message about the tragic price of poverty worldwide -- one woman dying in childbirth every 90 seconds or 981 women a day -- as world leaders gathered at the United Nations for the start of a progress review on reducing poverty.
As activists pointed silently upward, the clock on a digital billboard above Times Square launched at 9 a.m. EDT. The clock will run during the course of the three-day U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals and will count a death each 90 seconds and tally them online at www.amnestyusa.org/maternaldeaths.
The latest United Nations estimates show 358,000 women died in childbirth during 2008 -- about 1,000 women every day.
Some women die in their homes, unattended by anyone with medical skills. Some die while to trying to get to hospitals, on foot, in cars, in motorbikes. Some die in hospital beds, having reached the hospital too late to get the treatment they needed. Still others arrive at the hospital to find it lacking the trained personnel or supplies they need. The tragedy occurs worldwide, including in the United States, where two to three women die in childbirth every day. About half of these deaths could be prevented in the United States if maternal health care were available, accessible and of good quality for all women, according to Amnesty International's report, "Deadly Delivery."
The latest U.N. statistics place the United States 50th, behind 49 other countries in terms of the rate of maternal deaths, showing the United States slipping even lower than previous estimates. Countries like Bulgaria, South Korea and Kuwait are ranked ahead of the United States, according to the new U.N. estimates.
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said: "The clock is ticking for women around the world. While world leaders meet to talk about reducing poverty, women are dying. We are here to tell world leaders that they must take urgent steps to reverse this terrible tragedy worldwide. No woman should die while giving birth, when most deaths are preventable. Governments need to do much more to make certain that the most disadvantaged and poorest women have equal and timely access to life saving care.”
Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said: “The maternal death clock is a stark reminder to world leaders coming to N.Y. for the MDG summit of the scandal that is maternal mortality. It is time for governments to deliver on their promises and ensure the human rights of the world’s poorest are upheld."
Shetty, an expert on poverty and human rights, is leading Amnesty International's delegation to the U.N. summit on poverty.
The clock launched as about 140 world leaders assembled six blocks away for the start of the summit. The leaders are reviewing the progress they pledged in 2000 to reduce poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality -- all by 2015.
Activists wearing bright yellow "Every 90 Seconds A Woman Dies Giving Birth" T-shirts circulated on Broadway, inviting passersby to sign a petition to be presented to world leaders at the United Nations. The petition can be signed online at the Amnesty International USA website.
From Promises to Delivery
Amnesty International’s report From Promises to Delivery outlines crucial steps governments can take to deliver meaningful progress on the MDGs over the next five years. The report says that despite the fact that most deaths in pregnancy and childbirth are preventable, the MDG target to improve maternal health and prevent deaths failed to address the root causes of why women are dying. These causes include early marriage, denial of sexual and reproductive rights and services to women, as well as discrimination.
Maternal Deaths in the United States
Barriers to care reflect disparities among different racial and ethnic groups and affect maternal health in developed, as well as developing countries. In the United States, according to Amnesty International's March report, Deadly Delivery, more than two women die every day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Approximately half of these deaths could be prevented if maternal health care were available, accessible and of good quality for all women without discrimination in the United States.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.