Maternal mortality has declined by more than one-third in nearly two decades, UN agencies said on Wednesday, although Africa and South Asia bear the overhwhelming burden of deaths in childbirth.
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the World Health Organisation warned in a report that the rate of progress was too slow.
It was well below the global target of a three quarters cut in maternal mortality ratio under the 2015 UN Millenium Development Goals, they said.
The number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth fell by 34 percent from about 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008, according to the report, "Trends in Maternal Mortality".
"The global reduction in maternal death rates is encouraging news," says Dr Margaret Chan, the Director-General of WHO.
Chan pinned the progress on the presence of more trained midwives and strengthening health care for pregnant women.
"No woman should die due to inadequate access to family planning and to pregnancy and delivery care," she added.
Ninety-nine percent of such deaths occured in developing nations, while sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia accounted for 87 percent of maternal mortality in the world.
The fastest progress was achieved in Asia, where the number of maternal deaths was more than halved, from 315,000 to 139,000 between 1990 and 2008.
"Maternal deaths are both caused by poverty and are a cause of it," said Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, vice president for human development at the World Bank.
More progress would involve reaching deeper into rural areas and poorer households, the agencies argued.
Better health care for women from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups, as well as for women with HIV and in conflict zones, would also help.