I recently sat down with foundation staff member Amie Newman to answer some of her questions about maternal health. It's a topic about which I am passionate. I'm honored to talk about my own mother, the mothers I've met in my work for the foundation, and to talk to the billions of mothers around the world in these days leading up to Mother's Day in the United States.
What is the most important value your mother passed down to you?
My mother passed down many to me, but one of the most important is: Be still, be quiet, and really take time to know yourself deeply before you figure out who it is you want to be in the world. The other thing she instilled in me is a sense of caring about all the people around you -- understanding what they face in life and trying to put yourself in their shoes before you act. My mother, in a very direct way, has had a tremendous impact on the work I do now. I am forever grateful to her for that.
You've met so many mothers in your travels around the world. Can you talk about a woman who really stood out for you?
I am always so impressed with the strength and determination I see displayed in mothers in the developing world, in the face of enormous challenge. A few years ago, I visited the Nassa Health Center on a trip to Tanzania. This was a small health center, with no water or electricity. Yet the services it provided were indispensible. In the delivery ward, I met with a 20-year-old woman who was preparing to deliver her fourth child. She had walked six hours to get to the health center, carrying enough water with her for her stay, so that her child could be born in the clinic and get the proper newborn care. And then she walked back home to her other three children. Amazing.
What excites you about the work being done on the maternal health front right now? Is there a particular innovation that you think has tremendous potential?
I'm particularly excited about family planning and the impact greater access can have. More than 200 million women want to use contraceptives but don't have access. If they did, family planning would reduce maternal deaths by at least 30 percent.
I had the ability to plan my family and it's something I took for granted as a woman living in America. For women in poor places where it's difficult to get basic health care, it may be even more important to have some control over how you grow your family.
There are excellent family planning options available now -- there is an injection that costs $1 and lasts for three months; there is an implant that costs $8 and lasts for four years. We need to make sure these innovative solutions continue to be developed and get delivered to the women who need them in developing countries around the world.
What do you want to tell the billions of mothers out there on this Mother's Day?
What excites me is that we're focusing on mothers--because mothers are the bedrock of families. If you save the mother's life, she's there to make sure her children are fed and her children are educated.
What I want to tell mothers around the world is that progress is being made in maternal health -- and we need to tell that story. We've gone from half a million women dying every year in childbirth to fewer than 350,000. If you use your voice to tell governments that it's important to save women's lives, and that progress is happening, those leaders will listen and they will do more.