Celebrities including Keira Knightley, Annie Lennox, James Purefoy and Beverley Knight have called on the UK Government to make maternal and newborn health a priority in its international development assistance in a new short film released by Amnesty International yesterday (12 March).

The film, which premiered in the Houses of Parliament, is part of Amnesty’s campaign to ensure the UK government prioritizes maternal and newborn health care globally to enable all women access their basic right to health care. Entitled ‘Every day should be Mother’s Day’, the three-minute, star-studded film also features Dervla Kirwan, Colin Salmon and Jonathan Pryce.

“We’re delighted that so many celebrated artists are willing to stand with us on this very important matter,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen. "We want the government to maintain a strong political will to improve maternal health around the world.

“Ten years ago, world leaders made a commitment to reduce the rate of maternal deaths significantly by 2015. With just five years to go, the world is way off track of us seeing this goal fulfilled. We must see greater political commitment from all leaders around the world to ensure that fewer women die as a result of inadequate health care or lack of information about their basic rights.”

Every year, approximately half a million women die because of childbirth related factors – mainly in poorer countries.

Earlier this week, a coalition of organizations including Amnesty, Save the Children and the White Ribbon Alliance, revealed that the rate of pregnant women dying in countries in the developing world is as bad – and in some countries far worse – than the rate of women dying in Britain 100 years ago.

Today Amnesty International also published a major new report on the rate of maternal deaths in the USA, where figures show that two to three women die in childbirth or pregnancy-related factors every day. These deaths occur because of a lack of health insurance, barriers to health care for those who speak little or no English or who live in poverty, and a shortage of health care professionals in rural and inner-city areas.

Adding his voice to the campaign, actor James Purefoy said: "It’s beyond belief to think that every minute one woman in the world dies because of childbirth or related issues. That’s why I’m supporting Amnesty’s call to ensure that a pregnant woman’s basic right to health care is not denied. "

Amnesty is also encouraging thousands of its supporters to send a Mother’s Day card outlining its calls to each of the three main party leaders – Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – to maintain political commitment to maternal health in their global priorities. So far approximately 4,000 people have taken action online via www.amnesty.org.uk/mums.

Throughout the year, Amnesty along with other members of the coalition of organisations will be calling on the UK government to increase financing of maternal and child health in developing countries and to place maternal and child health at the heart of strengthening those countries’ health systems. It is also urging the UK to increase its commitment to supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

After taking part in the film actress Dervla Kirwan said: “Too many women are dying needlessly in childbirth or because of their pregnancy. Every day should be Mother’s Day – that’s why I’m committed to supporting Amnesty’s call to improve maternal health for all women.”

The film can be viewed at www.amnesty.org.uk/mums.

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