Last night, Diane Sawyer hosted a 20/20 special, “Giving Life: A Risky Proposition,” focused on the challenges that women and mothers face around the world. From Sierra Leone to Bangladesh, the 20/20 team traveled the globe exploring the challenges, opportunities, and successes in addressing one of the most disturbing health facts: that every 90 seconds, a woman dies in childbirth.
One of the stories that particularly resonated with me was in Sierra Leone, where the 20/20 team followed a young American doctor, Erin Carey, as she spent two days in a government hospital. There, Erin saw what millions of women face around the world—unsanitary conditions, lack of trained personnel, overworked staff, incredible need, and women crying out for help.
One woman Erin found in the hospital had begun to suffer from postpartum hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding after childbirth. Without blood supplies, life-saving anti-hemorrhaging drugs like misoprostol, or quick surgery, women like Amanada die every day needlessly. As Erin struggled to find supplies to help, she said, “I feel extremely frustrated right now. This is why women die.”
But as the special pointed out, frustration is beginning to turn to hope. In part, because of leading nonprofit organizations like BRAC, JHPIEGO, MEXFAM, UNFPA, Pathfinder International, and many others who are focused on innovative solutions to ensure women have access to family planning, maternal care, treatment for postpartum hemorrhage and a range of other reproductive health care services. And, in part, thanks to some big names like Nicholas Kristof and Christy Turlington who have raised their voices and brought critical awareness and support to this cause, Kristof through his New York Times columns and Turlington through her recent documentary and now advocacy campaign, Every Mother Counts.
“Giving birth is Russian roulette although it’s targeted to uneducated, rural, impoverished women,” Nick Kristof said. The good news? “There are still far too many women dying, but you get the sense that change is happening.”
We know exactly how to save these lives. But as Turlington points out, it’s about whether we make this a priority, “if we’re allowing women to die, it begs the question, how do we value women?”
Part of 20/20’s goal was to connect this issue to women here in the United States. In partnership with the UN Foundation, ABC News, BabyCenter, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they started the Million Moms Challenge to gather a million moms here in the US to support millions of moms around the world.
I raised my hand and joined. And I hope you will too. As Diane Sawyer said at the end of the special, “the human race can see across boundaries, pass beyond languages, join hearts from the other side of the world.” And that’s what will truly help us ensure that no woman, no matter where she lives, faces the risk of death while giving life.