Maternal Health Around the World Needs a Shot in the Arm

Fri, February 27, 2009

Moms & Politics

Childbirth is the leading cause of death for women around the world. About one woman every minute will die as a result of a pregnancy-related complication.

Pretty scary, huh?

But I bet I got your attention. Which is good, because I’m writing today about an effort launched this week on Capitol Hill by The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE called Mother’s Day Every Day.

No, not the kind of Mother’s Day where you get the Whitman Sampler and a day off from cooking (if you’re lucky), but one where the world gets serious about focusing on the sorry state of maternal health around the globe with the goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75% by 2015.

I spoke with Betsy McCallon, the Deputy Director of The White Ribbon Alliance, who stressed the importance of refocusing efforts to spread the message about the realities of maternal health around the world, saying it’s their mission to help simplify the message and information about the potential health and economic consequences, just like activists did when we were all learning about HIV/AIDS. Many people don’t realize that things some of us mothers get to take for granted — like having someone qualified to help deliver your baby — aren’t even a possibility for so many women around the world. McCallon emphasized that simple things like providing prenatal care, midwives and OB/GYNs could quickly and dramatically change the economic status of families around the world.

Donna Shalala, former secretary of Health & Human Services in the Clinton Administration and the chair of the group’s advisory committee, believes that this effort, on the heels of the creation of a Senate subcommittee that will focus on global women’s health and other women’s issues, is crucial:

As groups working in the developing world already know, women — and more specifically mothers — are the key to overall global health, self-sufficiency, economic growth and peaceful sustainability. Mothers raise children and provide their families with income and food. They ensure that children are educated and receive the health care they need. In short, when mothers survive childbirth, they give birth to healthier families, communities and nations.

Why should U.S. policymakers care when a mother dies in a village thousands of miles away? A mother’s death has long-term implications, one of which is a continued cycle of poverty for her family and community. When a mother dies, enrollment in school for younger children is delayed and older children often leave school to support their family. Children without a mother are less likely to be immunized, and are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. And as families accrue expenses for medical interventions that came too late and that they cannot afford, communities take on the burden of caring for the bereaved and impoverished family.

Wouldn’t it be nice if women’s health was enough to convince policymakers of the benefit of this plan. But that’s never is enough, is it? To convince those (read: men) who control the money to step up, we have to connect it to something else they can better relate to. That’s why its crucial to focus on the reality of what women across the globe to to contribute to everyone’s economic well-being.

When we look at it from the angle of it’s impact on the world economy, suddenly, all sorts of people are willing to sit up, take notice and hopefully make things happen.

We assume a lot of things when we decide to become mothers — like that we’ll have access to great medical care and that having a child won’t substantially harm the earning potential of our families (I know, I know — that’s another issue, but it’s probably safe to say that we have an easier time here in America than in third world countries when it comes to putting food on the table and earning money for our kids after we become mothers). Millions of women around the world don’t get to assume those things and for the sake of their health AND the global economy, it’s time to step up.

But will Capitol Hill listen? The BlogHer community is no stranger to advocacy for women’s health. So it’s great to see a variety of inside the beltway types listening and being involved, including well-known conservatives like Mary Matalin. That’s some REAL bipartisanship that gives me hope that when women come together for other women, no matter who we voted for, mothers and families around the world will benefit.

As McCallon reminded me, “It’s become the status quo that a certain number of women die in childbirth [around the world], and the urgency to remedy that just isn’t there.”

It’s time for a little urgency.

Check out The White Ribbon Alliance’s site for more information and ways to take action. As for Capitol Hill’s commitment? Well, Nancy Pelosi wasn’t able to attend the White Ribbon Alliance event, but it was held in the Speaker’s dining room. That’s a good bit of symbolic support that could go a long way.

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3 Responses to “Maternal Health Around the World Needs a Shot in the Arm”

  1. James Says:

    Great article! Building a better, safer, happier world starts with supporting mothers.

    Every child deserves a fair chance in life. All of us lucky enough to live in developed countries will benefit if we encourage and assist the creation of the conditions necessary for health and happiness in developing countries.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. OldWestMom Says:

    You know it’s interesting…

    Are we really any better off than we were even a hundred years ago?

    All these advances in medical technology, and we still don’t have proper basic care in so many countries in the world.

    Even within our own borders, so many families are forced to cut back on medical care because it’s just too expensive. As unemployment climbs, it will only get worse.

    Even when we deliver healthy babies, as a population we struggle with caring for them.

    And yet, there are doctors getting fat and rich exploiting our instinct to be mothers, recklessly putting the lives of mothers and children at risk by carrying out risky procedures to fulfill that instinct.

    We are a selfish and spoiled culture. We can barely see beyond our own desires, and so often others are being dragged down in the process.

    Eventually, as a global community, we will have to pay the piper. What we don’t care for now will come back to haunt us later.

  3. Melissa Says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I link back to this and talk about it on my blog. I’m so interested in women’s issues and this one is so important.

    We can’t get to see A Powerful Noise here in Australia, but I want to link to the other pages you’ve provided.


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