Ninety-nine years ago, International Women's Day was founded to honor the accomplishments of women and to press for equality between men and women. All these years later, there is still so much to do. Rather than tackling the overwhelming global needs of women, one organization - Women Deliver - is focusing on maternal health. The statistics are startling: Every minute of every day, a woman dies needlessly of pregnancy-related causes. That means that more than 560,000 women and girls die every year. Almost all of these deaths occur in the developing world, and ten million women are lost in every generation!
What a tragic loss for our planet when at the same time we in the developed world have turned our attention to new ways of obtaining and sharing information, the latest methods to prolong our lives and even how to conceive and deliver babies well into middle-age. I'm guessing that the founders of International Women's Day probably hoped that 99 years later, the chances of women dying of pregnancy-related causes would be slim to none.
A new study out of California shows that maternal mortality is hardly something we have conquered in our own country; in fact women die after childbirth at a greater rate in our country than in 33 others! Over the past decade, those statistics have grown increasingly grim in California -- rising from 5.6 deaths per 100,000 to nearly 17 deaths per 100,000. The reasons for maternal mortality in the U.S. and around the world are complex and varied, but the fact remains that most of the deaths are preventable. Women simply don't have to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after.
Maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70% and newborn deaths cut nearly in half if the world doubled investment in family planning and pregnancy-related care, according to a report released two months ago by the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The new report, Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health, found that investments in family planning boost the overall effectiveness of every dollar spent on the provision of pregnancy-related and newborn health care.
The thousands of delegates from around the world who will gather in Washington this June for the Women Deliver conference are determined to put maternal health high up on the agendas of leaders of nations large and small, developed and getting there. Their ask: $10 billion in additional funding for global maternal health annually, increasing ton an additional $20 billion by 2015.
We mustn't let this critical discussion get bogged down in ideology about abortion or contraceptives or politics. I challenge you to look into the eyes of your own mother or sister or daughter on March 8 and say, "Sorry, maternal deaths are simply not a prority." Or you could join me in celebrating International Women's Day with a pledge to invest in the health and well-being of women.
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