The report, entitled Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010, shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 " a decline of 47 per cent.
While substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries " especially in sub-Saharan Africa " will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal deaths by 75 per cent from 1990 to 2015.
"I am very pleased to see that the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth continues to decline," said Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which released the report along with the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children"s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.
"This shows that the enhanced effort of countries, supported by UNFPA and other development partners, is paying off," he added. "But we can"t stop here. Our work must continue to make every pregnancy wanted and every childbirth safe."
According to a news release issued by the agencies, a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications every two minutes. The four most common causes are severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortions.
Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries; most could have been prevented with proven interventions.
"We know exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise," said Dr. Osotimehin.
The report shows that one-third of all maternal deaths occur in just two countries. In 2010, almost 20 per cent of deaths, or 56,000, were in India, and 14 per cent, or 40,000, were in Nigeria. Of the 40 countries with the world"s highest rates of maternal death, 36 are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Similarly, East Asia, which made the greatest progress in preventing maternal deaths, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84 per cent as opposed to only 22 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has the highest rates of maternal death.
Ten countries have already reached the MDG target of a 75 per cent reduction in maternal death: Belarus, Bhutan, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Iran, Lithuania, Maldives, Nepal, Romania and Viet Nam.
There are a total of eight MDGs, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. They form a blueprint agreed to by all the world"s countries and all the world"s leading development institutions and have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world"s poorest.