With so many families celebrating Mother’s Day these days, it is hard to comprehend that over a half a million women die every year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. That is one woman every minute.
White Ribbons Alliance
The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA) is a global grassroots movement uniting people from all walks of life to advocate for changes and investments to ensure every woman’s access to quality healthcare before, during and after childbirth. The WRA works through all levels of government and across all sectors of society to build coalitions, strengthen capacity, influence policies, harness resources and inspire action to reduce maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity.
“I am a midwife by training, so you could imagine the passion that set in with what I had to witness in the countries that I worked,” says Theresa Shaver, President & Executive Director of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. “When you know what it takes for a woman to have a happy, healthy (childbirth); the experiences these women have to suffer are inexcusable.”
Inspired by the power of a ribbon’s representation in such movements as the HIV AIDS awareness campaign (red ribbon) and the Breast Cancer awareness campaign (pink ribbon), the white ribbon is dedicated to the memory of all women who have died in pregnancy and childbirth. In some cultures, white symbolizes mourning and in others it symbolizes hope and life. The white ribbon represents this dual meaning globally. The white Ribbon Alliance not only works to sustain life and hope for all women, but also mourns and honors those women who did not survive pregnancy or childbirth. (www.thewhiteribbonalliance.org)
“As founding members, we said, ‘it is not just a health issue — everybody has to get engaged in this. We have to raise the volume and we have to open the gates, so everyone can participate,'” says Shaver. “We need to demand that there is zero tolerance and transcend the cause from being a silent issue to one that is being talked about.”
Shaver encourages supporters of the cause to visit the WRA website, wear a white ribbon and be an advocate to educate others about the issue.
“You can write an editorial to a local newspaper or host a Tupperware party; we have films and videos we can send to anyone looking to organize something such as this to educate others about the issue… Everyone has a part to play, whether small or large.”
- The vast majority of maternal deaths are avoidable when women have access to vital health care before, during and after childbirth.
- Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries where the lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 76, compared to 1 in 8,000 in industrialized countries, according to the WRA.
- A package of maternal health services costing less than U.S. $1.50 per person could make significant improvements in women’s health in the 75 countries where 95 percent of maternal and child deaths occur.
Areas of Greatest Concern
The two regions with the greatest number of maternal deaths are Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In Southern Asia only 40 percent of births are attended by skilled medical workers and in sub-Saharan Africa, 47 percent. “In the (United States), we know childbirth to be a joyful event for the most part,” says Shaver. “When women become pregnant in areas such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it is a curse; it means one foot in the grave to these women.”
In 2000, leaders from 189 nations adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. (The Huffington Post) The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5 — to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent and to achieve universal access to reproductive health services by 2015 — has made the least progress of all MDGs.
Maternal mortality is at the same instance it was 20 years ago and at the global level, has only decreased by less than 1 percent by year between 1990 and 2005. This is far below the 5.5 percent annual improvement needed to reach the target.
“At this rate, MDG 5 will not be met until 2076 for Asia,” says Shaver. “We are halfway there, but you can imagine where this puts Africa.”
Photo — Ethiopian woman with her baby