April 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm , by Amelia Harnish
What does supermodel Christy Turlington Burns have in common with women in Malawi, Haiti and Guatemala? Nine years ago, Burns had a hemorrhage after the birth of her daughter. She recovered, but she learned that the same complication she survived kills thousands of women each year, mainly because they don’t have access to basic care.
“That shocked me,” said Burns, speaking last week about global maternal mortality at the Women in the World Summit. “Pregnancy is not a disease, yet 15 percent of all pregnancies result in a life-threatening complication.” (That’s her in the center, speaking with other panel members. You can get the full recap here.)
You may be thinking, as I was as I sat in the audience, that this is only a problem in far-off villages, not here in the United States where we have hospitals and prenatal care. But it turns out the rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. has doubled in the past 20 years, and we now have a higher rate of death in childbirth than Bosnia and Kuwait.
On top of that, the number of women who have complications but don’t die—what experts call “near misses”—are on the rise. “In the U.S. right now, about 52,000 pregnant women a year, or one every 10 minutes, will have a serious problem,” says ob-gyn Priya Agrawal, executive director of Merck for Mothers, Merck’s initiative to end maternal death in childbirth. Merck for Mothers sponsored the panel. The most common complications are hemorrhage, preeclampsia and blood clots, all of which can have lifelong health consequences. For example, preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, can raise your risk for heart disease later on. “Ninety percent of these cases are preventable, but there is a huge lack of awareness, even in the United States,” says Dr. Agrawal.
Organizations like Merck for Mothers and Every Mother Counts (founded by Burns in 2010) are working to improve and standardize care in the United States and beyond so that all pregnancies and births can be joyous occasions. Meanwhile, there are simple ways you can help.
Watch Christy Turlington Burns’ Documentary No Woman, No Cry
The film follows four stories from Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and the United States to show you everything you need to know about the issue. You can download it on iTunes, buy the DVD or get in touch with Every Woman Counts to arrange a screening in your area. Get all the info here.
Share Your Birth Story on the Merck for Mothers Facebook page
Did you have a complication? Like the Merck for Mothers page on Facebook to share your story, get the facts and help the organization spread awareness.
Photo by Marc Byron Brown