Subject: UNDP: More women die in childbirth in East Timor than anywhere in East Asia

For Immediate Release

MEDIA RELEASE 8th March 2002

March 8th: International Women's Day

More women die in childbirth in East Timor than anywhere in East Asia

New figures produced by the World Health Organisation in East Timor show that twice as many women die in childbirth in East Timor than anywhere else in South East Asia or the Western Pacific.

According to their research, less than a quarter of East Timor's women have ready access to a health facility or a qualified midwife. In part, this is because so much of East Timor's infrastructure, including roads, health clinics and hospitals, is still in a state of devastation following the violence of 1999, but it is also because there is a shortage of qualified midwives. The WHO says these figures represent an absolute tragedy.

Working with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the second Transitional Government (ETTG) and the UN Fund for Population (UNFPA), the WHO last year trained fifteen East Timorese midwives as national trainers. This year, those trainers will be running courses for their colleagues. The WHO also held an audit of five districts which showed the training was proving effective: new practise standards were being used, more women were coming to the midwives for antenatal consultations and the numbers of women choosing to birth with them is slowly increasing.

UN agencies in conjunction with the Ministry of Health are also supplying much-needed basic birthing kits for midwives, including such simple items as soap.

But while the UN agencies are supporting the country's small population of midwives (196 for a population of 800,000), the WHO believes that to reduce this devastatingly high mortality rate many more midwives are needed.

Available for interview:

Ms Elizabeth Wood, WHO reproductive health officer for East Timor and herself a midwife.

Teresa de Jesus Vas Cabral, East Timorese midwife working with the WHO and Ministry of Health. Teresa speaks English.


UNDP, Caicoli Street, Dili, East Timor Telephone: (670 390) 312 481: Fax (670 390) 312 408: Mobile: (61) 0 418 834 630 E-mail: 

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