‘Saving Mothers, Giving Life’ celebrates 1 year of reducing maternal mortality

Saving Mothers, Giving Life was launched in June 2012 with the goal of supporting countries where women are dying at alarming rates during pregnancy and childbirth to aggressively reduce maternal mortality. This post, which reflects on the program on its 1-year anniversary, was written by Celina Schocken, director of Saving Mothers, Giving Life.

No woman should die in childbirth.  In fact, most maternal deaths are preventable. Yet nearly one woman dies in childbirth every two minutes, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.

This month marks the first anniversary of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a partnership intended to aggressively reduce the number of women in the developing world who die during pregnancy and childbirth.

An expectant mother’s death has a profound, cascading impact.  Her death jeopardizes the lives of her surviving children and their likelihood of receiving health care and education.  By ensuring safe births, we help to produce healthy and economically secure families and communities.

Saving Mothers, launched by then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton last June, supports and builds upon national maternal health programs in Uganda and Zambia, with the goal of reducing maternal deaths by up to 50 percent in targeted districts.

After evaluations by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Columbia University, we know that we’ve achieved a tremendous amount very quickly.  Childbirths in medical facilities have increased, emergency obstetric and newborn care services have improved and community linkages to medical facilities have been strengthened.

Saving Mothers, Giving Life

In Saving Mothers, Giving Life districts, the number of women attending four or more antenatal care (ANC) visits has increased significantly. ANC visits are critical to the health of the baby. 

Saving Mothers trained community health workers, including 4,000 Village Health Team members in Uganda and 800 Safe Motherhood Action Group members in Zambia, promoted facility deliveries and birth preparedness as well as distributed supplies for childbirth and caring for a newborn. Furthermore, we helped add more than 300 new doctors, nurses and midwives to the health workforce in Uganda and Zambia, improving emergency obstetric and HIV care.

We also upgraded infrastructure. Maternity waiting shelters have been constructed and renovated, providing a safe space for women to stay before their due dates and enhancing access to maternal health services.

On my recent trips to Uganda and Zambia, I had a first-hand look at some of the challenges —and opportunities —we face.  Some of the facilities we visited handle as many as 10 childbirths per day but often face a shortage of delivery beds. The situation is challenging even when labor and births pass without complications, but is especially difficult when multiple women are in labor simultaneously.

Health workers also cope with frequent blackouts and unreliable water supplies. Ambulances, critical for serving large catchment areas, often don’t exist or frequently run short of fuel.

Addressing these problems starts with leadership and policy change at the national level.  Zambia’s First Lady, Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata, is helping lead a national effort to reduce maternal mortality.

Saving Mothers, Giving Life

Safe Motherhood Action Groups work in Zambian communities to encourage women to deliver in health facilities. The risk of death from pregnancy-related complications is far greater when women deliver at home. Saving Mothers, Giving Life partners provide extensive training and support for these groups in four districts in Zambia.

A trained obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Kaseba-Sata is promoting policies that encourage women to deliver their children in medical facilities, train new midwives and ensure that facilities are well-equipped.  Saving Mothers is guided by national programs and priorities, and reinforces them with additional resources and expertise.

Innovation at the local level is also vital. Dr. Richard Mugahi, the district health officer in Kabarole, Uganda, embodies how a motivated, entrepreneurial leader can make a big difference.  Dr. Mugahi has challenged and motivated local health workers, creating ambulance committees to coordinate the network of vehicles that transport pregnant women to care.

We are making progress. But we have a long way to go. Millennium Development Goal 5, which calls for a 75 percent reduction in the maternal mortality ratio by 2015, lags furthest behind all eight goals.

Working together, with strong leadership at all levels of the health care system, we can ensure that more sons and daughters will be delivered safely and more mothers survive childbirth.

Want to do your part to support maternal health in the developing world? Check out Saving Mothers, Giving Life’s website and their global partners: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Every Mother Counts, the Government of Norway, Merck for Mothers and Project C.U.R.E.