WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Mother and child death rates are declining faster than in the previous decade in more than half the countries around the world, an indication that international efforts to improve mother and child health are having an effect, researchers say.

But despite the progress, it appears that few countries will meet the 2015 Millennium Developmental Goals for saving the lives of mothers and children, according to the team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Countries worldwide that signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 promised to make improvements in child and mother health through programs to educate more women and to prevent infectious diseases in developing countries.

The researchers' analysis found that death rates among mothers in 125 countries and death rates among children in 106 countries declined faster between 2000 and 2011 than in the previous decade. Progress has been particularly strong in the past five years, the researchers said in a university news release.

Between 1990 and 2011, the number of deaths worldwide related to pregnancy and childbirth decreased from 409,100 to 273,500, and the number of deaths among children under the age of 5 fell from 11.6 million to 7.2 million.

The researchers estimated that 31 developing countries will achieve Millennium Development Goal 4, which calls for a two-thirds reduction in the child death rate between 1990 and 2015, and 13 developing countries will achieve Millennium Development Goal 5, which calls for a three-fourths reduction in women's deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth.

The analysis suggested that nine countries will achieve both goals: China, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Mongolia, Peru, Syria and Tunisia.

The study, published online Sept. 20 in The Lancet, concluded that "immediate concerted action is needed" for many countries to achieve the life-saving goals.

More information

The World Health Organization has more about Millennium Development Goals.