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“Too many mothers die needlessly” was the take-home message for Congress at an April 16, 2008, briefing co-sponsored by PATH, CARE USA, the White Ribbon Alliance, and Women’s Policy, Inc.

The global health community knows how to prevent maternal deaths; now we must garner the political will and resources necessary to make sure that women can survive childbirth to raise their children, the speakers said.

More than 150 people attended the briefing, including Congresswoman Lois Capps and supermodel Christy Turlington, a celebrity advocate for women’s health. Congresswoman Capps, a former public health nurse, described the devastating impact that a mother’s death can have on her family and on her children’s chance of survival. Children who have lost their mothers are up to ten times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.

Every minute of every day

Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, began the briefing by providing an overview of the dire situation that faces pregnant women across the world. Every minute of every day a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries that lack access to information and health care that could save their lives. Dr. Gayle stressed the need to address both the medical and underlying social causes of maternal mortality in order to affect change.

Change at all levels needed

Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, National Coordinator for the White Ribbon Alliance India and senior advisor for Advocacy and Communication at CEDPA India, discussed successes and challenges in mobilizing grassroots and policy responses to reduce maternal deaths in India. She noted the need to move people to action at all levels of society in order to successfully address this pressing problem, which takes the lives of more than 100,000 women in India each year. Only by educating families at the community level, holding governments accountable at the local level, and advocating for large-scale policy change at the national level can a lasting change occur.

Simple tools can save lives

Deborah Armbruster, director of PATH’s Prevention of Postpartum Hemorrhage Initiative, introduced a film clip describing the Uniject™ device, an inexpensive tool developed by PATH’s longstandingHealthTech Program, funded by the US Agency for International Development. The Uniject device is a simple syringe prefilled with oxytocin—a hormone that can significantly reduce death from postpartum hemorrhage, which is the leading cause of mothers’ deaths worldwide, killing approximately 150,000 women each year. The device is produced and distributed by manufacturer BD.

Without a simple tool like the Uniject device, administering the proper dose of oxytocin was often a complicated task for health care workers and was hard to deliver in remote areas. Using the Uniject device eases preparation and conserves supplies, allowing minimally skilled health care workers to give an accurate dose of the drug, in the homes of women who give birth far from a formal health clinic.

Ms. Armbruster underlined the reality that simple tools already exist to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of mothers each year. Increased funding is now needed to ensure that these solutions reach the women who need them most.

Stories of mothers lost

The briefing also featured “Stories of Mothers Lost: A Promise of Healthy Pregnancy and Safe Childbirth for All,” a touching White Ribbon Alliance exhibit created by people around the world who lost a mother, wife, sister, or friend in pregnancy or childbirth.

More information

Uniject is a trademark of BD.

Posted April 25, 2008.