Dying to Give Life

Women should not die giving life. I'm pretty sure most of us in the U.S. and around the world are in agreement on that. And yet, tragically, more than half a million of the world's women lose their lives during childbirth -- a statistic that has held steady for over seven years. Here's the shocker: We have the technology and the knowledge to save most of those women. So why aren't we?

This week Pathfinder International and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will discuss a new initiative that could reduce maternal mortality rates by more than 25%. They will be highlighting an innovative, low-cost, reusable technology to address postpartum hemorrhage -- the leading cause of maternal deaths. The non-pneumatic anti-shock garment or "Life Wrap" can easily be used by health workers in the developing world (see the new technology in use here.) Pathfinder is focusing their initial efforts in India and Nigeria -- two countries that account for more than one-third of all maternal deaths worldwide.

But technology -- innovative or not -- is only one part of the puzzle. Without adequate family planning programs in the developing world -- and here in the U.S. -- women will always be at unacceptably high risk of death, illness and disability. For elected officials to say that they are pro-life but to also say that women should not receive the very best reproductive health care information and services is hypocritical and deadly. Pregnancy, childbirth and children are among the very best experiences a woman can have...anywhere in the world. But she must have the knowledge and ability to choose when and how many children to have. Investing in family planning programs and in new technologies such as the anti-shock garment will finally begin to reduce the rate of maternal mortality in the developing world.

Once and for all, let's eliminate the ideological labels we've each donned as armor and that create barriers to effective action. Let's all just agree: Women should not have to die giving life.