09/14/2010 02:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Right of Every Woman to Survive Childbirth

"WIE need you" in the fight to save women's lives around the world! So say Arianna Huffington, Sarah Brown and Donna Karan, co-hosts of the first annual Women, Inspiration, Enterprise (WIE) symposium in NYC. Timed to underscore appeals to world leaders, WIE is at once a convention and a celebration, bringing together women at the forefront of politics, philanthropy, media, fashion, and the arts with young women from the US and developing countries who are already making a difference to change the world.

Josna developed labor pains in the seventh month of her pregnancy and went into prepartum haemorrhage. Her family immediately called the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA). An ASHA is a community worker who is appointed under India's National Health Program to assist pregnant women to avail their health entitlements. There is one ASHA for every 1,000 women. Her job is to spread awareness about antenatal care, ensure that women go to hospitals for deliveries, and receive proper care during childbirth and the postpartum period. Many ASHA's accompany women to a health facility for antenatal checkups, delivery and postnatal checkups.

When the ASHA reached Josna, she saw that Josna had lost a considerable amount of blood. She called the emergency referral transport and took her to the nearby health center, where Josna received free emergency obstetric care and medicines. The newborn corner at the facility took care of Josna's child. Had it not been for Josna's knowledge about her entitlements, and timely action, she would not have survived. Unlike Josna, many women do not have knowledge about their health entitlements and die due to the almost always treatable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

To accelerate the pace to meet Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) and combat maternal deaths occurring needlessly, leaders from across the world made promises to invest in women and newborns. Maternal health is a priority and remains on the agenda of discussion among policymakers. In India too, there are maternity benefit schemes which provide free treatment, referral transport, free drugs and blood supply, and round-the-clock emergency obstetric services to women. In addition, women get a cash benefit of $30 when they go for institutional deliveries. The Government of India's Ministry of Women and Child Development plans to soon introduce a new conditional cash transfer program for pregnant women and mothers, providing an incentive of $88 to pregnant women for antenatal health visits, newborn check-ups and exclusive breastfeeding.

Despite all these programs, there are women who die without availing their entitlements. Recently, in a well-connected area of Delhi, India's capital city, a woman delivered her baby on the sidewalk. Some people noticed the newborn lying in the middle of hungry dogs and rescued the baby; however, the woman was left lying unattended. She could not reach the facilities and died after four days waiting at the sidewalk for some help.

Women need to know their health entitlements. Educating mothers and family remains a critical challenge. Proper implementation of the policies and programs that promise safe motherhood to every woman must be addressed strongly. An effort to transform political commitment into action is required to save mothers from dying. A lot still remains to be done to bring down maternal mortality. As a young advocate of safe motherhood, I would like to raise awareness among women and their family about entitlements and rights pertaining to maternal health. Safe motherhood is not a complex issue but needs commitment from all levels of society and action on time to prevent the deaths.

All proceeds from WIE will go to support the work of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and Urban Zen.

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Deepa Jha is a core coordinator in WRA-India's national office in New Delhi and will be attending the WIE symposium in NYC on September 20.

Check out the rest of the WIE series here.