06/04/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mothers Day Every Day For Healthier Families, Communities and Nations

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.

Each May, we celebrate and honor mothers. The treasure of motherhood is something that people of every political philosophy and walk of life can agree on. But despite this veneration of motherhood, giving birth can still be dangerous, especially in places where it is difficult to access healthcare.

Every minute of every day, a woman somewhere in the world dies as a result of pregnancy or childbirth--amounting to more than half a million fatalities each year. In developing nations, a woman's lifetime risk of dying from reproductive problems is as high as one in seven, and problems with pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of the disease burden among women.

But the problem is far from isolated to the developing world. While the average risk of a woman dying in childbirth is 1 in 8000 for industrialized countries, the risk in the United States is much higher: 1 in 4800. In fact, the U.S. ranks 41st in the world in terms of maternal mortality.

The devastation of a mother's death is difficult to overstate. It is cataclysmic for her family, and the effects ripple through her neighborhood, community, and country. Every year, a million children are left motherless because of maternal death, and children who have lost their mothers are 10 times as likely to die prematurely than those who have not.

When the United Nations was developing its Millennium Development Goals, researchers realized that many of the goals they hoped to reach--reducing infant mortality, combating the spread of AIDS, giving every child access to education--hinged at least in part on curbing maternal mortality. Therefore, the central Millennium Development Goal, number 5, is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015.

On the bright side, we know exactly what must be done to meet that goal. When women have access to good healthcare throughout pregnancy and childbirth, almost all survive whatever complications may arise. But in developing nations, forty percent of women give birth without a skilled healthcare attendant. These women are vulnerable to uncontrolled bleeding, infections, and other conditions that would require very little medical intervention to correct. Expanding childbirth assistance is extremely effective at saving the lives of mothers and newborns. Poor countries need help to deploy more skilled health workers and strengthen health systems. Helping women give birth safely allows them to contribute to the health, self-sufficiency, and economic prosperity of their families, communities, and nations.

I will spend this Mother's Day in Haiti, home to the highest maternal mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. Last year for the first time, health authorities in Haiti began to waive pregnant women's hospital fees, but women are still usually forced to pay for doctors' gloves, syringes, food, and medication. As a result, many women are forced to give birth at home, unattended or with untrained midwives who utilize traditional medicines and are unequipped to handle complications.

That is why I am working with the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE to launch Mothers Day Every Day: The Campaign for Healthy Moms and Newborns and am currently drafting legislation with Senator Gillibrand to address maternal mortality. We are seeking expanded U.S. leadership to help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and newborns around the world. In doing so, we recognize the profound importance of every mother, every day. Indeed, when mothers survive childbirth, they give birth to healthier families, communities and nations.

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. To learn more, visit

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