The web is abuzz today with Denise Grady’s New York Times article about a new study just released by The Lancet, indicating maternal mortality has taken a dramatic nosedive worldwide—huge news. Previous studies have indicated that the number of women dying during pregnancy or childbirth has not changed substantially in the last 30 years, despite strong efforts. Grady writes, “the findings challenge the prevailing view of maternal mortality as an intractable problem that has defied every effort to solve it.” Grady goes on to report not only the incredible findings, but an interesting twist—that some organizations involved in advocacy around maternal health asked The Lancet not to release the findings for fear that it would limit their ability to raise funds for the issue.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that evidence of fewer women dying would somehow lessen support for this important cause. If anything, I agree with Dr. Richard Horton, who wrote a comment accompanying The Lancet article. Horton wrote that the declining numbers actually help the cause. If the numbers are correct, that would show the organization for whom I work, Pathfinder International, and our colleagues’ years of work to save women’s lives, is paying off.
Of course, if the reduced estimates are accurate, the picture is not all rosy. Even the lower estimate indicates that hundreds of thousands of women are dying from pregnancy-related causes, and that is unacceptable. There are many countries where maternal mortality has not declined—and some where it has increased (including the United States, although researchers point out this may be because of changes in maternal death reporting in North America). The study indicates that maternal mortality would have also improved at a greater rate if not for the rise of HIV. HIV/AIDS has been a significant factor contributing to maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa—where the AIDS epidemic is taking the greatest toll.
With that in mind, what do you think? In seeing recent findings that indicate access to skilled birth attendants, better health care, family planning, and economic resources all help save women’s lives, would you be less inclined to support safe motherhood initiatives, or more inclined? Would you be less likely to sign a petition asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or other world leaders to focus more foreign aid on maternal health care? Or would these new findings make you more inclined to take action, or donate to a nonprofit working on maternal health because the results indicate their work is helping?
No woman should face the risk of death during a time of excitement and joy—and this new study indicates we may be on the right track toward reducing that risk. As these findings undergo more discussion and analysis, I hope it will point to the strong possibility that we can achieve progress by 2015 on the UN Millennium Development Goals. That would truly be an inspiration for all of us, that by acting together, we can change the future of our world.
Photo: Pathfinder International