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The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Global Health Initiative, the Maternal Health Task Force, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) invite you to attend (or watch online) the sixth event of the series, Advancing Policy Dialogue on Maternal Health: The Impact of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity on Economic Development. The event will take place on July 29th from 3-5pm in Washington, D.C.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Event Details:

Investing in women and girls health is smart economics. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) women contribute to a majority of small businesses in the developing world and their unpaid work on the farm and at home account for one-third of the world’s GDP. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that maternal and newborn deaths cost the world $15 billion in lost productivity.

Mayra Buvinic, sector director of the gender and development group of the World Bank, will address the economic impact of maternal deaths and the role of education and gender equality on economic development. Dr. Nomonde Xundu, health attaché at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington DC will discuss the policy implications of maternal health and share lessons learned in empowering women and girl’s economic status in South Africa. Mary Ellen Stanton, senior maternal health advisor of USAID, will present the foreign policy and economic case for increased donor investment in maternal health.”

For more info and to RSVP, click here.

For info on future events and links to videos of previous events in the maternal health policy dialogue series, click here.

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Dr. Fred Sai is co-host of Women Deliver 2010, former reproductive health and HIV/AIDS advisor to the Ghanaian government, and has spent 40 years working to improve the health of women and children in Ghana and throughout Africa.  In his June 2nd blog post, A New Role For Africans in Maternal Health, on the ONE Blog, Dr. Sai comments on the new maternal mortality estimates published in the Lancet that show a dramatic reduction in global maternal deaths–and asks questions about why Africa (as a whole) has not seen these same reductions. He also expresses confidence that a shift in approach (described in his post) will lead to major improvements in the health of women and children throughout Africa.

The ONE Blog

“…It is an unfortunate truth that progress for the world at large does not necessarily mean progress for Africa. In 1980, almost a quarter of maternal deaths occurred in African countries. Today that figure has doubled to more than half. All but one of the 30 countries with the worst maternal mortality statistics are in Africa. And while countries like Ghana and Rwanda have seen a steady decline in maternal deaths over the past 15 years, others such as Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire actually have higher maternal mortality rates than they did in 1990.

Addressing maternal mortality in Africa is complex and challenging. Our countries face increasing rates of HIV, entrenched and debilitating poverty, food shortages, weak education and health care systems, problematic governance, corruption, and civil conflict. These are huge issues in their own right, but they also have significant impact on maternal, newborn and child health. The challenges, however, are not the whole story…”

Read the full post, A New Role For Africans in Maternal Health.

For additional reactions to the Lancet publication from other leaders in the maternal health field, click here.

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Several leading media outlets are covering the news of dramatic global declines in maternal deaths–and raising questions about why a group of women’s health advocates pressured the Lancet to delay publishing the findings…

The New York Times

“…The study cited a number of reasons for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

But some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview…”

Read the full story, Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe, on NYTimes.com.

The New York Times Freakonomics Blog

The New York Times Freakonomics Blog also had something to say about this story and provided some background information on the history of maternal mortality–including a reference to the contributions to maternal health of Ignatz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically reduced with basic hand washing (ie. Medical students needed to wash their hands between cutting open cadavers and delivering babies!!).

Read the full post, Who’s Not Happy About a Falling Maternal Death Rate?, on the New York Times Freakonomics Blog.

Also see stories from the Associated Press, Lancet reports drops in maternal childbirth deaths, says it was pressured not to publish story; and from the Washington Post, Fewer Women Dying in Childbirth, Study Says.

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National Public Radio

“During the Bush administration, conservatives opposed even the use of the term “reproductive health services.” U.S. support for family planning abroad declined significantly. Now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that under the Obama administration, millions of women worldwide will have greater access to family planning, contraception and HIV counseling and treatment.”

Listen to the story here.

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A NOW team from PBS recently went to Haiti to investigate high levels of maternal mortality in the country. They happened to be in the Haiti when the earthquake hit. In collaboration with the Bureau for International Reporting (BIR), a non-profit video news production company, PBS produced Saving Haiti’s Mothers, a show that examines the state of maternal health in Haiti before the earthquake and immediately following it.

NOW on PBS

“Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, in addition to leaving lives and institutions in ruin, also exacerbated a longtime lethal risk in Haiti: Dying during childbirth. Challenges in transportation, education, and quality health care contribute to Haiti having the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere, a national crisis even before the earthquake struck. While great strides are being made with global health issues like HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality figures worldwide have seen virtually no improvement in 20 years. Worldwide, over 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy. This week, a NOW team that had been working in Haiti during the earthquake reports on this deadly but correctable trend. They meet members of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), which operates a network of health agents in more than 100 villages, engaging in pre-natal visits, education, and emergency ambulance runs for pregnant women…”

Read the full story and watch the special here.

Learn more about Haitian Health Foundation, UNFPA, and Family Care International—all organizations featured in the show.

Visit the Bureau for International Reporting (BIR) site here.

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According to UNFPA, Timor-Leste has a maternal mortality ratio of 660 deaths/100,000 live births

IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis

Women in rural areas have little to no information on reproductive health. Photo by David Swanson/IRIN

“According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), women in Timor-Leste – the world’s newest independent nation and also Asia’s poorest – give birth to an average 6.38 children during their lifetime, one of the highest fertility rates in the world and second only to Afghanistan.  Melinda Mousaco, the country director for Marie Stopes International Timor Leste, told IRIN that awareness of family planning and reproductive health, particularly in rural areas, is ‘next to nothing’.

‘Because of a lack of education, accidental pregnancies happen frequently,’ she said. ‘When we show basic reproductive anatomy or give information about women’s menstrual cycles, people often tell us ‘this is the first time I’ve heard this’.’

Timor-Leste gained formal independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a long separatist struggle and a surge of violence in 1999, and health experts cite conflict and unemployment as key factors in the country’s high population growth…”

Read the full story here.

For more information on UNFPA in Timor-Leste, click here.

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According to a report by Observatorio de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, Argentina has the means to address  maternal mortality, but fails to do so because of a lack of political will.

Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS)

“…Argentina has a maternal mortality rate of 44 for every 100,000 live births – two and a half times higher than the average in neighbouring Chile and Uruguay, and a far cry from the six per 100,000 or seven per 100,000 live births in Spain and Italy, for example. Both national authorities and independent experts working on these issues say that at this pace, Argentina will fail to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of significantly reducing the number of maternal deaths by 2015, bringing it down to Chile’s and Uruguay’s current levels…”

Read the full story here.

Visit the Observatorio de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva site here.

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