Improving Maternal Mortality and Other Aspects of Women’s Health

The United States’ Global Role

Over the past several decades, the world has witnessed some astonishing global health success stories—from the eradication of smallpox to the expanding control of other vaccine-preventable diseases to the widespread provision of effective treatment for HIV/AIDS to millions of people. Yet, for all these public health and medical advances, a startling number of women still die each year from causes linked to pregnancy and childbirth: 287,000, according to the most recent consensus estimates. Eighty-five percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Many if not most are thought to be avoidable given adequate maternal access to emergency obstetric care.

In response to this ongoing tragedy, the United States has recently begun taking an increasingly visible role in global efforts to reduce maternal mortality, seeking to create new governmental and public-private partnerships toward that end. Once such initiative is Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a five-year endeavor designed to help provide needed emergency care to women in labor, delivery, and the first 24 hours postpartum. In April 2012, before the Saving Mothers, Giving Life program was announced, a small CSIS delegation traveled to Tanzania to explore constructive roles that the U.S. government and other external donors could play in improving women’s health and reducing maternal mortality in Tanzania and elsewhere. This report on the maternal health aspects of that visit is intended for those persons less familiar with the technical and organizational details of addressing maternal mortality for use as a guide to some of the complex challenges inherent in addressing these issues, as well as to recommend steps to increase the odds of success. The report uses data and observations from Tanzania and many other countries to describe the specific burdens on women’s health that are associated with pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It discusses many of the major interventions currently being planned and/or implemented by developing country governments and their supporters, and it identifies key challenges for improving maternal mortality and women’s health overall in developing countries.

Phillip Nieburg