Yo mama needs maternal care: the global maternal health crisis

In Congress yesterday, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) proposed an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee that would strike language defining which benefits employers would be required to cover (so the pill can go, but you can bet no one’s getting rid of Viagra coverage).  Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) argued against him, saying that insurers need to be required to cover basic maternity care – shockingly, there are several states that don’t have this legislation.

Kyl said, charmingly, “I don’t need maternity care.  So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”  Oh, isn’t it great that he stood up for those poor white males in Congress?  There are just so few of them – and they never get heard.

Stabenow interrupted: “I think your mom probably did.”

The amendment was defeated, nine to 14.  If only had been there to high-five Stabenow – then my day would have been complete.

I wish that all of the people who don’t think that maternal health is a priority were defeated with a snappy quip.  But even though women’s health worldwide is getting more and more press coverage – and, dare I say it, becoming hip? – we’re still incredibly far from providing adequate care for mothers, even in some of the most developed countries.  Some of the most blatant examples of deficiencies in maternal health get caught up in Islamophobia (as with the 12-year-old Yemeni girl who died in childbirth a few weeks ago – a horrifying story that nevertheless has as much to do with maternal health as it does with marriage practices in Yemen) or are glossed over in a general attempt to “empower” women, mostly through microfinance (does anyone else have another idea?  Anyone?  Because I would LOVE to talk about something other than microfinance).

Some very ambitious goals were set at the G8 conference in July, making maternal health part of the Millennium Development Goals.  Goal number 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality by a staggering 75% by 2015.  The focus on maternal care didn’t start with the conference, though – ever since the NYT magazine on global women’s issues (which I had mixed feelings about at the time – read my post on Equal Writes here), there has been a really astonishing amount of attention paid to maternal mortality.

Last week, the White Ribbon Alliance hosted an Important Dinner for Women, which was attended by, among others, the queen of Jordan, Diane Von Furstenberg, Tyra Banks and Martha Stewart.  All of the attendees signed a pledge to aid the Maternal Mortality Campaign in some way, and then the photo shoots began.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m really skeptical of the way that women helping women is turned into a fashion show.  I don’t care what they wore to the dinner – I care about what they said.

The fact is, according to the WHO, a woman dies every minute because of pregnancy or childbirth.  That’s 1,440 women a day, and over half a million women a year.  In the U.S., 2-3 women die of pregnancy-related complications a day – not as dramatic, but still deeply problematic, especially when you consider that African-American women are 3 times as likely to die.  According to the CDC, at least half of these women’s lives could be saved by adequate maternal care.  It’s wonderful that people are suddenly paying attention to women’s health on a national and global level – but I’m hoping that it isn’t just another fad taken up by celebrities.  I also hope that focus isn’t placed solely on prenatal and maternal care, and that we devote as much attention to making sure that women have access to contraceptives and family planning so that they can choose how many children they want to have and control when they have them – child spacing, for example, is crucial to maternal health.

Dr. Ana Langer, the president of EngenderHealth, had a great post up at HuffPo a few weeks ago about how planning pregnancies can save women’s lives (she encourages all of us to contact our legislators about a spending increase in the FY10 Foreign Operations Bill – if you’re interested in learning more, check out this link).  And of course you can always check out Pathfinder International (a great reproductive health organization that I volunteered with in Vietnam last summer) or Marie Stopes International for more info.  And of course, if you live in Missouri, call your senator and congratulate her for standing up for women’s health.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/mcgraths/3659139185


David Harmon
David Harmon8 years ago

YES Cecily W. Thats it. In todays world what is the reason to put a woman through 6, 7,10 pregnancies and Births? Also you have to realize that RELIGIOUS DRIVE is also a problem based on their constant PRO-CREATION brain washing. They too are drivin by selfish individuals. As for pre and post care, simply put "You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make them drink". Many females simply dont do what they should due to age, ethnic background, etc. SEX Education in it's RIGHT FORM does help. But not taught as DARK TABOO of SEX or Abstanance. Focus needs to be on the RESPONCIBILITIES of CHILD BIRTH and RAISING babies. All the inconveniances this does bring and the changes in one's life. STOP making it easy and FINANCIALLY REWARDING to have babies at 14, 15, 16, etc.It is even rewarding for the parents financially of these single kids having kids since they simply become STATE PAID day care and financially supported PROVIDERs. As for other countries, Its a BELEIF SYSTEM, not pregnancy issues. They beleive certian ways which cause the effect. You have to change the BELEIF SYSTEM. In many cases, the RELIGION. GOOD LUCK. We can not even acheive that in our own country. I.E. Religious Pro-creation beleifs for having sex only to make babies.

Mary M.
Kate M8 years ago

Look the fact is that for Republicans only white males count as people... let's be clear about it. My lifelong Republican brother, Frank, (and Capitol Hill lobbyist btw) confirmed a central tenet of Republican "morals" when we had the following exchange in 1999: I said: "You Republicans want to take the this country back to the way it was in the 1850's." And he replied (before he thought about it), "And what's wrong with that?" And I replied: "What's wrong with that is that you don't know what's wrong with that."

Women and children and the elderly simply are not on their radar. Stop pretending that we have any reason to expect to be. They are not going to change. Vote them out of office and always remember the harm they have done to this country during the Bush years. NEVER FORGET IT!

Carole D.
Carole Dunn8 years ago

The Republicans want it both ways. They don't support abortion, but they don't want women to be covered for giving birth. Neither do many of them think birth control should be covered by insurance. Viagra is sacred however. A lot of this circular thinking is the result of the peculiar form of fundamentalist Christianity practiced in this country.

As far as reproductive health in third world countries, no one cares much for the rights and the health of women and children. Whenever they talk about human rights, it's all about men.

Jennifer R.
Jennifer R8 years ago

One way to improve maternal health care is to train midwives to provide services, including prenatal and child birth, where there are no doctors. Midwifery care can reduce infant mortality much more cost-effectively than trying to get poor women to hospitals to deliver with obstetricians. Maternal nutrition, particularly supporting pregnant women getting enough iron and protein, would also go very far in lowering infant mortality, since maternal malnutrition (particularly anemia) cause many maternal deaths.

One other reason for the high infant mortality rate in Africa is the practice of female genital mutilation -- by removing the clitoris and labia and sewing up what's left, scar tissue is formed and also the vaginal opening so reduced that the baby gets stuck coming out in many cases, which can cause both infant and maternal mortality as well as fistulas and other complications.

In addition, the US has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world despite all the medical advances (and at least partly because of the high c-section rate). Promoting midwifery in this country would help as well. In European countries where more women give birth at home with midwives, the maternal and infant mortality rates are much lower at a lower cost.

Elle S.
Elle S.8 years ago

I see your comments on maternal mortality in practical reality. I support 2 literacy teachers in Dem Rep. Congo who had a class of 26 marginalised women finish the six month course. Before graduation, one student Anny died in childbirth, leaving a new born and 4 other children orphans. It was very sad reminder for all.
Infant mortality has reduced by about 15% in the last year but we still have a long way to go. In Canberra, Australia recently delegates from Micah Challenge met 130 politicians to lobby for more aid, and some aid redirected, to reducing maternal and infant mortality.

cecily w.
cecily w8 years ago

The semantical emphasis should be on "reproductive health care" instead of "maternal health care". World population will reach at least 9 billion by 2050. It is in the best interest of both men and women to reduce fertility since the futures of both genders will be (or is currently being) adversely affected by rampant population increases.

One of the most effective ways of reducing fertility is to try to ensure that each woman who wants to gives birth to one or two healthy children--and giving them the means to prevent further pregnancies.

But, this also involves male responsibility.

that each wom