THE BLOG

Health Care We Can Agree On

06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We've heard a lot about health care recently, but I'd like to talk a bit about an aspect of health care that I think we can all agree on: global maternal health. Millions of mothers worldwide die from pregnancy and childbirth because they lack access to the most basic health care imaginable.

Critics might ask why we should focus on global maternal health. We should focus on it because we can't afford to ignore it. Besides just being the right thing to do, saving the lives of vulnerable women stabilizes societies, boosts economic growth and helps break the cycle of poverty. The world we live in today is too interconnected to think we can prosper if we ignore global maternal health.

Much of the burden of the global health crisis falls on the most vulnerable: mothers die because they can't access birth control, are forced into marriage too early or must walk miles to reach the nearest health center. They die because they are forced to give birth without the help of a skilled birth attendant or in unclean surroundings. They bleed to death because there is no one to perform simple procedures or no medicine to give them. Mothers continue to die preventable deaths simply because we have not invested in saving them.

And yet, it is by saving mothers that global health has the greatest ripple effect. Investing in women's lives is an investment in growth, in sustainable development, in human rights and in future generations. We can't break the cycle of poverty or create stable productive societies without mothers.

The world economy loses $15.5 billion dollars each year because of preventable maternal deaths. Families and communities are destabilized when mothers die needlessly, especially in developing nations where women produce 60 to 80 percent of the food. In fact, one of the most reliable predictors of violent conflict in a society is a high maternal mortality rate.

In western and central Africa, where the most maternal deaths occur, no discernible progress has been made since 1990. Yet, there are reasons to hope. Cultures are shifting and governments are beginning to realize how much they need their mothers. Programs to increase access to maternal health care are growing, but all too often, they fall short because of the lack of resources.

Recently, Senegal abolished fees for deliveries in clinics and emergency c-sections in public hospitals, hoping to increase births in medical facilities. Previously, most women delivered at home because they can't afford the costs of going to a clinic. The policy worked -- women flooded clinics and hospitals to give birth. But the program has thus far failed to achieve its true intent: saving lives. It is failing because, no matter the cost of individual care, there simply aren't resources to build needed clinics, train doctors or even send critical medical supplies to the few hospitals that do exist. The intent is there, but the resources are not.

Senegal isn't unique. Sierra Leone, one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, just announced free care for pregnant and lactating mothers as well as children under five. Unfortunately, like in Senegal, without resources to increase health infrastructure and transportation, just announcing free care won't be enough to save lives in a meaningful way.

Still, Sierra Leone and Senegal deserve recognition. These free programs are evidence that both governments are committed to protecting mothers. It is the international community that must now step up and provide further support. When countries commit to protecting vulnerable lives, they should receive support from those who can provide it in order to make their programs a success.

The Obama Administration has recognized that woman-centric health policies are critical to achieving our global health and security goals. They have placed maternal health at the center of our global strategy and asked Congress to increase funding for maternal and reproductive health to $700 million and $666 million respectively in 2011.

In these tough economic times, everyone is understandably looking for programs to cut and dollars to save. But mothers in the developing world have been forgotten, neglected and undervalued for too long. These mothers won't have anyone to speak for them in Congress -- unless we do.

In the last few weeks, an extraordinary coalition of people have come together to stand up for mothers. From internationally respected humanitarian aid groups to business leaders, scientists to celebrities, people are coming together and demanding that congress invest in mothers in the 2011 budget. Will you join us?

The debate in congress has already begun, so there is no time to lose. We need to let our leaders know NOW that we, as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and most importantly as voters, care about saving mothers lives. We need your voice. Tell Congress to support mothers' lives today.

Send a message to Congress and ask them to support funding for mothers' lives this year: www.theliyakebedefoundation.org.

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