Advocating on Capitol Hill for Better Maternal Health


This past Monday on Capitol Hill I got to attend a press conference with a group of Congress members and supporters. The purpose of the conference was to highlight the need for U.S. leadership to promote safe motherhood for women around the world and the bi-partisan House Resolution 1022, sponsored by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA).

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At the presser, various congresswomen supporting the resolution talked about the grim reality facing women in poor countries who want to become mothers and how this resolution is a first step to addressing maternal mortality at home and abroad. The congresswomen were joined by CARE Ambassador Christy Turlington Burns and UNFPA Ambassador Geri Halliwell (aka Ginger Spice).

There were lots of cameras and a good discussion. Christy gave a very passionate testimony. She talked about her travels abroad with CARE, meeting with women in their communities and learning about the many challenges they face during pregnancy and childbirth.

Christy said: "As a mother of two children, I've been particularly struck by the issue of maternal mortality. I realize how lucky I am to live in a society where my right to a safe motherhood is both respected and honored. Yet, for too many women in the developing world, pregnancy and childbirth is a SERIOUS life and death risk. In fact, during the time we'll spend at this press conference, 60 women will have died trying to become a mother -- that's one a minute and that number hasn't changed in decades. In fact, in many parts of the world it's gotten worse. That's simply unacceptable. It's especially tragic when you realize that we aren't searching for a cure. We already know what to do. We just need the political and social will to get it done."

House Resolution 1022 is a hopeful development but as Christy added: "We now need to invest in programs that provide cost effective, life-saving interventions like skilled birth care, emergency obstetric care and family planning. We call upon the Administration and Congress to lead the way... On behalf of CARE, we look forward to working with Congress to make childbirth be about life, not the death of mothers."

This is a good example of how advocating (and being persistent) can lead to positive change. Working for change in Washington and in developing countries does require a lot of patience. You can't just flip a switch to make life for poor women better.

Acknowledging the problem is a good first step. Now we need a dramatic increase in resources, not cuts. Just to give you an idea, for every additional $100 million the U.S. invests in global maternal health programs, organizations like CARE can help provide basic and essential care for 4 million women and treat 140,000 women with life-threatening conditions.