THE BLOG

10 Years and Counting: The Next Big Things in Maternal Health

05/07/2015 02:01 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016

As Mother's Day draws near, I am marking a special milestone. Ten years ago, I became a maternal health advocate with the goal of drawing attention to the millions of preventable deaths of mothers and newborns each year during pregnancy and childbirth.

Much has been achieved for moms over the past decade. Today the global rate of deaths is declining at a faster rate and many highly impacted countries have made big gains in extending care and saving lives. In Ethiopia where my foundation (lkfound.org) works with local partners we've seen amazing progess as a result of health worker training efforts.

Still around the world 800 women die from pregnancy and childbirth related complications every day and half the world's mothers have been left behind with little access to the recommended care -- like regular prenatal check ups and skilled attendance during labor and delivery.

I'm thinking about what the next 10 years could hold for these women, and it's exciting. These are my hopeful predictions -- the six big things I believe will take root and make safe motherhood a reality for this other half of women that we have not yet reached:

  • A Global Fund for Moms -- In 2011 in my blog series on this site I wrote about why we need a Global Fund for Mothers similar to existing funds that are expanding access to HIV treatment and vaccines. I strongly believe that this type of strategic and coordinated approach is key to reducing maternal mortality worldwide. Last year the World Bank and major donors announced that they would jump-start a new financing facility to mobilize the resources needed to expand health services for moms. This is a promising step forward that could boost comprehensive national maternal health programs.

  • Youth Advocates -- Like millions I have been extremely moved by Malala Yousafzai. Her courage is astonishing and her voice is powerful. She inspires us all to demand change with compassion. I have every reason to believe that more young leaders like her will emerge in the years ahead. The right to maternal health education and services is critical for adolescents -- millions of girls under age 18 give birth every year. As such I believe young advocates will be particularly drawn to propel the safe motherhood movement even further forward using creative approaches to media that connect their communities to global audiences and make their unique voices heard.
  • Data Revolution -- When my foundation maps out priority targets for our programs today we must rely on demographic data and health statistics that are incomplete and often outdated. This will change. Already, attention and funding is increasing to improve data collection and analysis. The Canadian government, for one, is dedicating millions of dollars to strengthen vital statistics systems in developing countries to ensure that all deaths and births are counted. In the next decade I believe that health officials will use this data to strengthen procedures and set higher standards.
  • Smarter Technology -- Mass adoption of cost-effective technologies will perhaps be the most powerful driver of better health in our lifetime. Last Spring while visiting a rural health clinic in northern Ethiopia I met a mothers support group who had accompanied a woman from their community who was in labor. I asked these volunteers how they worked together and they held up a worn notebook and showed me how they were keeping careful track of all the pregnant women in their neighborhood and helping them to remember key appointments and plan for a facility birth. More moms in this community will survive when these women have mobile devices and tools that make sharing information quick and easy. What's more when the clinic's health workers can also tap into global networks to receive instant medical guidance this community is going to have the best possible care at hand at all times.
  • Transformational Treatments -- In this past decade grand challenge competitions have been drawing extraordinary scientists and researchers to investigate how to make childbirth safer and there are some incredible innovations in the works. For example, the "Saving Lives at Birth" challenge (http://savinglivesatbirth.net) has called out groundbreaking ideas from fast-dissolving tablets that prevent post-partum hemorrhage to chewing gums that prevent low birth weight and diagnostic paper stamps that identify high-risk pregnancies. In the years ahead as these low-cost innovations are taken to scale in regions where mothers are underserved we will see substantial declines in mortality.
  • Universal Health Care -- In the decade to come more and more countries will roll out universal healthcare insurance programs that offer subsidized care for the poorest families. In some countries these programs are already associated with reductions in maternal and early newborn mortality. As they mature they will focus not only on making more affordable care available -- but also better care. Attention to the quality of care pregnant mothers receive will mean fewer and fewer women give birth alone -- the choice to seek skilled care from the public health system will be an easy one.
  • I'm excited about these big ideas and I'm optimistic about the next 10 years for moms and all that we can and will do to reach mothers everywhere.