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Clean delivery practices are essential to protect the health of mothers and newborns from infections. Severe infections, which are often brought about by unhygienic delivery practices and unsafe water and poor sanitation, accounted for 36 per cent of neonatal deaths in 2000. Promoting hygienic delivery practices and immunization has contributed to a significant reduction in the incidence of maternal and neonatal tetanus since 1980.

Steps to prevent and treat infectious diseases in pregnant women are also important. Two examples of prevention and treatment relate to HIV and malaria, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Luckily, the fight against HIV shows signs of progress, as does the fight against malaria. However, although efforts to prevent and treat HIV and malaria have achieved some successes in recent years, much more needs to be done to address the disastrous effects of these diseases.

Poor health among pregnant women is preventable, detectable or treatable through antenatal visits. UNICEF and WHO recommend at least four antenatal visits. These visits allow women to receive the care they need, like tetanus immunization, screening and treatment for infections, and important information on problems that may occur during pregnancy and delivery. Unfortunately, in the developing world as a whole, many women do not receive the recommended four visits.

There is no substitute for the assistance of skilled health personnel at delivery. There has been an increase in skilled attendance in all regions of the developing world over the past decade, except in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO recommends that skilled birth attendants administer active management of the third stage of labour for all mothers – a procedure that is the most widely accepted method to reduce post-partum haemorrhage, a leading cause of maternal death.

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