Let Women Deliver For Us All

In April, the Lancet released some encouraging statistics on maternal health: maternal deaths dropped from about 526,000 in 1980 to around 340,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2008.
This is a decline worth celebrating, but not a reason to pull back; if anything, this study should drive us to do more: to advocate for necessary policy changes and to push for funding increases for maternal health. We know progress is possible.

More than 3,200 people - everyone from world leaders to midwives working in rural Africa - will convene in Washington, D.C., today to attend the Women Deliver Conference 2010. We are meeting to map out this progress.

Despite the Lancet's good news, the sense of urgency among us is stronger than ever: the Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved without investing more in women. With enough funding -- an additional $10 billion annually by 2010 and $20 billion by 2015 - there is just enough time to achieve MDG 5, which calls for a 75% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio from 1990 to 2015.

Reducing the maternal mortality rate continues to be a challenge for most public health systems. In PSI's experience, it takes a total market approach, working with public and private sectors, to ensure that a consistent high quality supply of reproductive health products and services matches up with an informed demand from women for these products and services.

A woman I met named Faridah stands out in my mind. She is 25 years old, and she has five children and no husband or family to support her. She is a Ugandan farmer, going from village to village and working on neighboring farms. With a large family, it's hard to work long hours and the pay is very little. One day Faridah brought her child for an immunization at a local clinic and met Grace, a midwife and private reproductive healthcare provider with ProFam. ProFam is branded network of reproductive health providers that works with PACE, PSI's affiliate in Uganda.

Grace talked to Faridah about her family planning options. She chose to get an intrauterine device, a long-acting and reversible contraceptive method. Now Faridah doesn't worry about getting pregnant. She has more time to work, and she is able to feed her family and save to send her children to school.

Long-term family planning methods are 99% effective and prevent unintended pregnancy for 5-12 years. In 2008, PSI scaled up delivery of long-term family planning methods like IUDs and implants in 17 countries, using private franchise networks, like ProFam Network. PSI franchising programs assure quality through rigorous training and monitoring and evaluation programs; promote positive behavior change through branded and generic communications; and improve access to important public health interventions. Our experience over the past two years has shown how women will seek out quality services once they are accessible and reliable; over one million IUDs have been distributed to women under this program.

There are millions of women like Faridah who never end up meeting a provider like Grace. But they both remind us that it's possible to change the reality for many of these women, their families and their communities. The MDGs give us a deadline; there is also a price tag. Aren't fewer maternal deaths worth it? Of course they are. We all have a part to play in reaching this goal.