Money for Maternal Child Health: The Gates Foundation’s Newest Project

I am assuming by now, you’ve heard about the announcement Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation made this week about the $1.5billion the Foundation is poised to spend over the next five years for the purpose of saving maternal and child lives surrounding childbirth, as well as improving over all maternity care, in developing nations.

Gates’ announcement was made at the Women Deliver 2010 conference this past Wednesday, and according to the Women Deliver website, on a global scale, “at least one woman dies every 90 seconds from [childbirth] and another 20 suffer infection or disability, while four million newborns die every year. These grim numbers actually represent improvements over the last 20 years….”

What’s important to understand here, is that a majority of these deaths (particularly in developing nation environments) are EASILY prevented–given access to basic medication (antibiotics), trained birth attendants (in most cases, we’re not talking about trained surgeons, we’re talking knowledgeable midwives) and simple postpartum hemorrhage tools and techniques.

Again, from the Women Deliver website:

  • Every year, between 350,000 – 500,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Almost all of these deaths (99%) occur in the developing world.
  • Ten million women are lost in every generation.
  • Four million newborn babies die every year, also from causes that are mainly preventable and typically linked to the mother’s health.
  • Huge disparities exist between rich and poor countries, and between the rich and poor in all countries.
  • One in eight Afghan women will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and one in seven in Niger.
  • One in 4,800 women will die of these causes in the United States, and one in 17,400 in Sweden.

Map of women who will die due to complications during  pregnancy

If that doesn’t give you pause, it darned-well should.  Imagine seven or eight of your girlfriends…your aunts/sisters/mothers…which one of those seven or eight can you imagine losing to pregnancy-related causes?  Despite efforts by people like famed midwife Ina May Gaskin who continues her work on the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, many of us living in developed nation environments can scarcely imagine what it would be like to lose a loved-one during the perinatal time period.  And those of us who do know someone who died following a pregnancy-related complication, may have experienced that tragedy as an aberration rather than a commonality.  Imagine the anxiety surrounding that time in a woman’s life when the stakes are so much higher than which we here in the US, UK, Australia, or most of Europe will  ever experience.

(Interestingly enough, considering the amazing access to medicine and well-informed maternity care, US women are still at an unacceptably increased risk when it comes to pregnancy and birth, especially when you compare our statistics to places like The Netherlands where the maternal perinatal mortality rate is approx. 9/100,000 births compared to our ~16/100,000.  In our reality, the problem most often boils down to overuse of technology…but that’s a whole different story.)

I’m excited to see what improvements will be orchestrated through The Gates Foundation contribution, and the global work being undertaken by researchers, activists, care providers, educators and citizens who choose to exercise their voices…all for the sake of improved outcomes for mothers and babies!

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Filed under Childbirth Issues, family, From One Mother to Another, Mommy and Motherhood, natural childbirth, politics, pregnancy, prenatal health

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