Speaking at an evening reception for Women and Children First, Sarah Brown said: "What always surprises me is how few people are aware of the scale of the maternity mortality around the world. Maternal mortality must not be the forgotten target in the Millennium Development Goals. It needs to be addressed in the same way as other major health problems, such as malaria, and should have its own global plan of action."
Her comments came at the end of a one-day conference on 6 March, organised by Women and Children First, which brought together delegates from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, UK NGOs and UN agencies.
Sarah Brown added: "I am very grateful to Women & Children First for bringing together so many practitioners to share their expertise and to work together for real change. The countdown to 2015 starts now. We need to advocate for action and improvement and I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years."
Earlier in the day the UK's Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Gillian Merron, had stressed the government's commitment to reducing global deaths in childbirth.
The Minister said the time was right to build on momentum, especially ahead of the G8 summit in Japan in July.
"Improving maternal, newborn and child health in developing countries is a priority for the UK government. I welcome this Women and Children First event as an important opportunity to develop a more co-ordinated approach," said Gillian Merron.
"I am pleased that some progress has been made towards reducing child deaths in the developing world, but it is not acceptable that a woman in a country such as Sierra Leone is still 600 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than a woman in the UK."
"The UK Government's spending on maternal health is increasing year on year. But much more needs to be done with governments, the United Nations and non governmental organisations if the global community is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015."
Another speaker, Dr Francisco Songane, Director of the World Health Organisation’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, said in reality an additional US$10 billion a year is needed if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on maternal and child health are to be met by 2015.
Official figures for 2005 state that 536,000 women die in childbirth every year, but the number of deaths could be as high as 872,000. MDG 5 seeks to reduce the level of maternal mortality by 75%, and has made the least progress of all the MDGs.
Ms. Ros Davies, Chief Executive of Women and Children First, said: "We are extremely grateful for the high level commitment and support for this critical issue and we hope we can harness this and translate it into real action on the ground."
"Everyone must act now if we have any hope of meeting the target. We know what needs to be done. We need more health clinics and equipment, trained workers to deliver babies, safe abortion and full access to contraception and all communities should be demanding these."
Women and Children First works to improve the health and wellbeing of women and children in developing countries with a particular focus on pregnancy and the first 28 days of life.