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UN secures 40 billion dollars for global health drive

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday announced a 40-billion-dollar drive to improve the health of women and children, which he said would save millions of lives around the world.

Governments, philanthropists and private groups pledged the cash, giving a spectacular end to the UN summit on eliminating poverty, a campaign that has been badly battered by the international financial crisis.

"We know what works to save women's and children's lives, and we know that women and children are critical to all of the Millennium Development Goals," said the UN chief in a statement. "Today we are witnessing the kind of leadership we have long needed."

He estimated that his Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health could save 16 million lives by 2015.

Cutting the unnecessary deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth and stopping the premature deaths of children under five are the two most slowest moving goals of the eight key development targets set at a summit in 2000.

The UN said that spending on women and children reduces poverty, stimulates economic growth and is a fundamental human right.

Countries from Afghanistan to Zambia - but also including Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia and the United States - have contributed to the drive.

The foundations of the world's richest men, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates were among the contributors. They joined rights groups such as Amnesty International and multinationals such as The Body Shop, LG Electronics and Pfizer.

"Never have so many come together to save the lives of women and children," commented Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose country is one of the world's top aid donors.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the UN Populations Fund (UNFPA), called advancing the health and rights of women "one of the greatest social causes of our time."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that investing in women and children's health was "an issue that deserves to be at the top of our development agenda."

A UN statement said that the deaths of more than 15 million children under five would be saved between 2011 and 2015 because of the initiative.

It added that it would prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies and 740,000 women from dying from complications relating to pregnancy and childbirth. It estimated that 120 million children would be protected from pneumonia.