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A Mother's Day We Can All Celebrate

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This week marks the start of the second annual National Women's Health Week, launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to highlight important women's health issues and promote preventive screenings, nutrition, exercise and healthy behaviors.

National Women's Health Week offers an opportunity to shine a spotlight on maternal health -- the wellbeing of women during pregnancy and childbirth -- an issue that many of us take for granted. And there is no better time to talk about the significance of safe motherhood than on Mother's Day.

Although most women have healthy pregnancies and look back fondly on the birth of their children, pregnancy and childbirth are not always the joyous occasions they should be. Despite scientific and medical advances, some women experience serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth and tragically, some don't survive.

When you think about the death of a woman during pregnancy or childbirth, one may assume that this is a problem of the distant past. The sad truth is that this is simply not the case. Maternal mortality remains one of the world's most pressing global health challenges. Every two minutes, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from complications that arise during pregnancy and childbirth -- most of which are preventable.

And when you think about these deaths, one may also assume that they don't occur here in the United States. That, too, is simply not the case.

While most of the women who die from pregnancy and childbirth complications live in developing countries, this tragedy also affects us here in the U.S. -- and it's getting worse. For example, the rate of maternal deaths in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, and we are doing worse than almost all other industrialized countries, An estimated 880 women die every year during pregnancy and childbirth. On top of this, more than 50,000 women a year nearly die from severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth - that's one every 10 minutes.

That's why Merck for Mothers has made the U.S. an important part of our global initiative to reduce maternal mortality and is committed to improving maternal healthcare in this country. Joining forces with national and local organizations, we are applying Merck's business and scientific expertise to find creative ways of reversing the troubling trends here at home.

Our programs are focusing on the following areas:

• Strengthening data collection and case reviews to better understand why maternal deaths are occurring and use that knowledge to improve practice and inform policy.

• Implementing standard approaches to address obstetric emergencies so that all women receive evidence-based, high-quality care.

• Enhancing community initiatives that coordinate care for women with chronic conditions before and after childbirth so they have access to services that ensure good health during and beyond pregnancy.

As National Women's Health Week gets underway, we owe it to our mothers -- and the mothers of future generations -- to create a world where no woman dies giving life. Merck for Mothers and its partners are working to help ensure every woman has access to the quality care she needs to live long, prosperous lives. But, we know that we can't do this work alone. Now is the time to join together to invest in the health of women. If we can save women's lives during pregnancy and childbirth, we will help make families healthier, communities stronger, and nations more productive, and that will be a Mother's Day we can all celebrate.