06/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Of Pandemics and a Global Pledge to Moms and Newborns

Progress is being made to save the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. Still, every minute, a woman dies of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, leaving her baby more likely to die within two years. Most of these deaths could be prevented. Join The Huffington Post and the Mothers Day Every Day campaign in the global movement to call upon world leaders to invest in health workers and strengthen health systems so that every day, everywhere in the world, all women and newborns have access to lifesaving care.

pan-dem-ic adj. (of a disease) occurring over a whole country or the whole world

Yeruknesh Mesfin's family rushed her to the nearest hospital as soon as they realized they couldn't take care of her, but it was too late to save her life. Chidimma Obinna waited for hours at an unregistered clinic only to find out there were no more medications that might have made the difference between life and death. Siti Erna's family, too poor to pay for medical care, truly believed Siti's mother knew what to do to pull her through her last terrifying night.

Yeruknesh, Chidimma and Siti died for lack of basic health care taken for granted by all but the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Yet, unlike those stricken by a potentially terminal disease, these three women died, from the almost always treatable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

On this Mother's Day, our hearts go out to the families worldwide who lost and are still caring for loved ones. We mourn the loss of Judy Trunnell, the first person in the US to die of the swine flu, after being hospitalized since April 19 in Texas. Judy, who subsequently slipped into a coma, gave birth by Cesarean section to a healthy baby girl.

The recent and rapid global response to the threat of a swine flu pandemic has shown us what world leaders can do if they have the will power. We applaud the steps that were taken, including by the Obama Administration and the International Monetary Fund. Their swift mobilization of resources, providing assistance to the Mexican government and informing the public about steps to prevent the spread of infection undoubtedly saved lives. Thankfully, at this time, it appears that reported cases were fewer than 2,000 with 48 deaths worldwide.

Meanwhile, as has been true for the last two decades, every minute somewhere in the world a woman dies in childbirth. Every year, 536,000 families, 99 percent living in developing regions, are left devastated by the tragic and incalculable loss of a daughter, a wife, a mother.

Why -- despite repeated pledges by world leaders and international consensus on proven success strategies -- have the numbers of women dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth virtually remained the same as the 1980s?

Where is the global response to ensure every woman access to quality health care -- including family planning, skilled care at birth, emergency obstetric care and postpartum care -- so every woman is empowered to make her contribution to the health, self-sufficiency, economic growth and peaceful sustainability of her community, nation and the world?

We know what to do to save the lives of mothers and newborns. All that is needed is the political leadership to galvanize a global commitment to invest in skilled health workers and strengthen health systems to link women with lifesaving care before, during and after childbirth.

Preventing unplanned pregnancies could avert one in three of all maternal deaths. Ensuring access to voluntary family planning could reduce child deaths by as much as 20 percent. Yet, more than 200 million women who wish to delay or space their
pregnancies do not have access to modern contraceptives.

Skilled health workers at delivery are key. Risks of mortality for women and their babies are highest at the time of birth. Yet, worldwide, 34 percent of deliveries have no skilled attendant. At the same time, far too many skilled health workers don't have the low-cost medications or the most basic support, like blood banks to provide quality care to the women they do see.

We all have a role to play to extend the progress saving hundreds of thousands of mothers and newborns in the world's most challenging communities. Wealthier nations and global financial institutions must meet their obligations to assist resource-poor countries. Governments must commit the funds and develop the plans to ensure every woman access to quality maternal care. People the world over must raise our collective voices to honor every woman's birthright to determine in her own way, in her own time, if and when she will give life to the next generation without risking her own. Only then can children everywhere celebrate mothers day every day.

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE, two organizations at the forefront of global women's health issues, have joined Secretary Donna Shalala and UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman and a distinguished group of advocates to promote Mothers Day Every Day, a campaign that raises awareness and advocates for greater U.S. leadership to improve maternal and newborn health globally as part of a global campaign uniting advocates around the world to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. Follow the action at learn more, visit

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Mother's Day series by clicking here