Saving Mothers’ Lives

photo by etwood via Flickr Creative CommonsBy Congresswoman Lois Capps

As we celebrate Mother’s Day with our mothers, daughters, and sisters, it is important that we remember the mothers around the world we have lost.  Every single year several hundred thousand girls and women across the world die from pregnancy-related causes.  Ninety nine percent of deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth occur in the developing world, and the overwhelming majority is preventable.

I can think of no better way to honor the sacrifices made by mothers around the world than by investing in their health and working to ensure that no woman dies unnecessarily as a result of carrying her child. Safe motherhood should be a basic right for all women.  We have a moral obligation to make the right investments to ensure that all women, no matter where they live, have access to basic, life-saving care.

That is why I will be introducing legislation this week to develop a comprehensive strategy that better coordinates our efforts on the ground in the countries that need our assistance most.

Many of the steps we can take to reduce maternal mortality are simple. Education about family planning, access to contraceptives, prenatal care, access to emergency obstetric care, and post delivery follow-up care are all straightforward and low-cost ways to intercede before, during, and after pregnancy to reduce maternal deaths.  But all of these interventions require greater investment and better coordination.

While investments in safe motherhood produce clear improvements in maternal health, their impact is felt way beyond the well-being of each individual woman. These programs can enhance entire communities as the death of a mother can have negative social and economic effects on both her surviving family and neighbors. Furthermore, investments in maternal health are investments in the future of women’s rights as a country’s maternal mortality rates and the overall status of women are inextricably linked.  For example, Afghanistan ranks highest in the world in maternal mortality.  According to a recent study published in the journal Lancet, nearly 1,600 women die for every 100,000 live births in that country.

As much work as there is to be done abroad to prevent maternal death, there is also work to be done here at home.  The United States ranks well below other industrialized nations in maternal mortality rates despite the incredible advances made in our overall medical care.  The new health care reform law will help address U.S. shortfalls by making several improvements for women’s health care.  For example, never again will pregnancy be classified as a pre-existing condition and maternity care coverage will be required in all plans.  But as a nation, we still have work to do to improve data collection, encourage wider adoption of best practices and train additional providers in reproductive and obstetric care.

In 2000, the United States joined with 188 other countries to pledge its support for the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals.  Number five is to reduce the maternal mortality ration by seventy-five percent and ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015.  It is time the United States and our fellow nations fulfill our promise to all women around the world to guarantee that they, too, can see Mother’s Day.

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