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The Million Moms Challenge: Helping Moms Around the World, One Story at a Time

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The statistics are staggering: Every 90 seconds, someone in the world dies during pregnancy or childbirth. That's 1000 women and girls every day. Yet experts say more than 80 percent of those deaths are preventable with access to basic medical care -- and that doesn't include the more than 1 million babies a year who are stillborn because their mothers did not receive needed medical care.

How can you NOT want to help?

The "Sisterhood of Motherhood"

Last September, ABC News and the United Nations Foundation joined forces to launch the Million Moms Challenge, a call to action to engage millions of Americans with millions of moms in developing countries. Our goal: to create a vibrant community around the shared dream of a healthy pregnancy, a safe birth, and a baby who will survive and thrive -- basic human rights that all too often are simply out of reach for women in the developing world.

The idea was to transcend distance, language and cultural differences by tapping into the common experience of moms -- the so-called "Sisterhood of Motherhood." As Tina Sharkey, CEO of Baby Center, told ABC News: "Whether your child is born in a hut or in a private hospital room, that moment of profound transformation is the same. No matter what language you speak, what personal belief system guides you -- at our core, all moms want the exact same thing -- a happy and healthy family."

Watch Arianna, Sarah Brown and Donna Karan share their birth stories:

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-First we partnered with nearly two dozen of the most respected non-governmental organizations around the world- including Save the Children, Partners in Health, World Vision, White Ribbon Alliance, ONE.org and mothers2mothers, to name a few.

We created a dedicated website (www.MillionMomsChallenge.com) featuring original video stories, news from our partners, and live, interactive posts from hundreds of mom bloggers (provided by BlogFrog).

And we hit the road, traveling to 16 countries and producing dozens of stories, ranging from investigative reports to feature stories to an hour-long primetime special with Diane Sawyer -- "Giving Life: A Risky Proposition."

"The Most Dangerous Thing A Woman Can Do"

For the primetime special on December 16th, 2011, we focused on countries where giving birth is literally the most dangerous thing a woman can do.

In Afghanistan, where more than half of marriages involve child brides, we met 15-year-old Miriam, married at 13 and about to give birth to her first child. Our producers travelled into Taliban-controlled areas to tell the stories of young mothers; one producer was threatened and stripped of his possessions at gunpoint during a trip near the Pakistan border.

In Sierra Leone, where one in six women dies in pregnancy or childbirth -- most often from postpartum bleeding -- we investigated why so few hospitals have the anti-hemorrhaging drug misoprostol, which can save lives for less than the cost of a postage stamp.

We also looked at success stories. Deborah Roberts reported on the so-called "Bangladesh miracle": how one of the poorest countries in the world achieved a 40 percent reduction in maternal deaths in the past decade, primarily by training skilled birth attendants and sending text and voice messages to pregnant women. And in Mexico, Dr. Richard Besser reported on the dramatic impact family planning has had on improving the lives of women and their children.

Baby Bumps and Twitterthons

But it wasn't just television. To engage a new audience, we worked with Baby Center to host the world's first virtual Baby Shower for Global Good -- an 8-hour "twitterthon" where more than a 1600 people won prizes and tweeted with top experts around the world. Total twitter impressions: over 94 million.

We launched the Imagine Me & You Facebook contest, where more than 450 women submitted photos of their "baby bumps" with a message for their little ones in an effort to win a rare photo session with renowned photographer Anne Geddes in her Sydney, Australia, studio . The contest sparked more than 40,000 "likes" and signups for the Challenge.

And we worked with the USC Institute for Global Health to develop an online video game "1000 Days," highlighting the crucial 1000-day window from pregnancy through age two when proper nutrition can determine a child's future.

An Outpouring of Support

In just 4 months, the Million Moms Challenge created an online community of more than 110,000 and raised more than $200, 000 (including generous contributions from Johnson & Johnson and Disney Baby). But it was our viewers who did the heavy lifting, donating more than $1.5 million throughout the entire year to organizations featured in our division-wide "Be the Change: Save a Life" series. It was clear that people wanted to make a difference -- and they did:

  • After Dr. Richard Besser met a woman in Bangladesh whose child died from diarrhea linked to dirty water, we asked viewers to help build a water tap for the island community. They donated enough to build 10 faucets and 20 toilets.
  • After Christiane Amanpour reported on malnutrition in Guatemala, where 80% of children are stunted, we asked viewers to donate40,000 to help children in one village develop normally. They gave enough to help the children of five villages.
  • Elizabeth Vargas met a group of students from Stanford University developing a low-cost incubator for premature babies in India. The resulting100,000 in donations helped propel the incubator into testing, and it is now being used to help babies in villages in rural India.

Then there were smaller -- but equally important -- milestones that had less to do with raising money than raising awareness here at home:

  • When JuJu Chang reported how Hope Phones was collecting old cell phones in the U.S. and recycling them so new phones can be bought for health workers in the developing world, the nonprofit went from collecting 200 handsets per month to 500 handsets per business day.
  • After seeing David Muir's report on a measles outbreak in Somalia and a vaccine that costs just 24 cents, 15-year-old Dimitri Godur rallied his eighth-grade classmates in Florida to raise money for the Shot@Life campaign -- enough for more than 4,000 doses of the "24 cent solution."
  • When ABC News and Duke Global Health Institute asked college students to send in their big idea for improving maternal health, eight graduate students from John Hopkins won a $10,000 prize donated by the Lemelson Foundation. Their idea: a "Protein Pen" that can screen for preeclampsia as well as other potentially deadly conditions for less than a penny a test. They recently returned from field-testing the pen in Nepal.

The Next Chapter

For the entire team here at ABC News -- including all the correspondents and producers who reported from around the world -- the year-long global health series has been an extraordinary project. And it's just the beginning.

As the network becomes more focused on political coverage during the election year, the U.N. Foundation will carry the momentum of the Million Moms community into its next phase , continuing to shine a light on the individuals and organizations helping to save the lives of mothers and children around the globe. And now, with the Global Motherhood platform at the Huffington Post, the idea of a vibrant global community -- that "Sisterhood of Motherhood" -- is becoming even more of a reality.

Here's to million moms reaching out to moms and children to create healthier communities throughout the world!

The Million Moms Challenge was part of ABC News' year-long, division-wide series "Be the Change: Save a Life", sponsored in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Teri Whitcraft is a Senior Producer of ABC News Special Units, and Coordinating Producer of ABC News' year-long, division-wide global health series.