In 2020, scientists around the world came together to develop and test a highly effective vaccine against a feared new virus, turning the tide on the global COVID-19 pandemic and saving countless lives.
However, during the same time period, a staggering 287,000 women worldwide died during and after pregnancy and childbirth, almost entirely from preventable causes. Yet few rush in to stop the bleeding.
Maternal mortality is an urgent and widespread problem that causes children around the world to lose their mothers. Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that’s not necessarily the case.
“In this day and age, 800 women should not die from maternal deaths every day,” she said wealth.
The Gates Foundation, in its annual Gatekeepers report released on Tuesday, lays out alarming figures for maternal mortality and offers several interventions it says have the potential to reduce low-income and middle-income families globally by 2030. Income Countries (LMIC) Save thousands of lives.
The report, co-authored by Frances and Bill Gates, tracks progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which among other goals is to reduce global maternal mortality rates by more than half per 100,000 live births. Nearly 160 of the babies born died to less than 70.
But as French Gates noted in the report, “We are still far off track.”
Inexpensive life-saving interventions
Every two minutes a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where progress in reducing maternal mortality has stalled. At the same time, maternal mortality rates have worsened in high-income countries such as the United States.
“There are things we can do to address this, there are interventions we can do – we want to show people what’s possible,” French Gates said. “When a woman goes to give birth, it’s still a very dangerous day” – no matter where she lives in the world.
The report highlights the tools that experts believe are most effective in curbing deaths among new mothers — many of which are inexpensive or already widely used to treat other conditions.
Among them: a simple, cheap plastic sheet.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 70,000 women worldwide experience postpartum hemorrhage, or excessive blood loss after childbirth. This makes death from excessive bleeding the leading cause of maternal death. The report states that $1 to $2 worth of plastic sheeting hung next to the bed could save a life every time it is used.
The drape measures blood loss and provides hospital staff with a quick, objective visual cue that a patient is in danger. When medical staff in the trial used surgical drapes and treated bleeding simultaneously (rather than sequentially), the number of serious bleeding cases dropped by 60%.
Other new treatments include 15-minute intravenous infusions of iron, which can prevent or treat severe anemia in pregnancy (a common cause of postpartum bleeding), and azithromycin, an antibiotic widely used to treat eye and respiratory infections. When given to mothers, azithromycin can reduce the incidence of maternal infections that can lead to sepsis – a life-threatening inflammatory response. The cheap drug reduced maternal sepsis cases by a third in a trial in sub-Saharan Africa.
“These interventions have the potential to avert an estimated 1.9 million cumulative deaths in low- and middle-income countries by 2030,” said Dr. Laura Lamberti, associate director for discoveries and tools for maternal, newborn and child health at the Gates Foundation. A recent news release meeting.
She added that by 2040, nearly 6.5 million mothers’ lives could be saved using these simple interventions in 60% of cases.
‘Deplorable’ trend in maternal mortality
Despite the availability of several low-cost interventions, maternal mortality remains alarming. “I can say that overall, the trends in maternal mortality are very bad and very challenging,” Lamberti told a news conference.
Several barriers impede access and adoption of these life-saving measures. Chief among them are: investment, scale and quality control.
Conflict-ridden countries are extremely difficult places to have children. It may be impossible for a woman to go to a health facility—and even if she does, the facility may lack basic equipment.
French Gates said countries needed “focus and purpose” and “more external government investment” to reverse the trend.
What’s more, “we need to have the right regulations and policies in place to be able to scale up these interventions quickly,” she added.
While the intervention itself may be cheap, distribution is not. Distributing them widely requires philanthropic and government funding. “And too often,” she added, “government funding is going to men’s health innovation, not necessarily women’s.”
French Gates points to another key obstacle to reducing maternal mortality: society’s attitudes toward women and the devaluation of their care.
“The international community’s tolerance of this low-quality, substandard approach to women’s health is entirely a gender issue,” Dr. Rasa Izadnegahdar, director of discovery and tools for maternal, newborn and child health at the Gates Foundation, said at the briefing.
U.S. maternal mortality rate
While the report’s primary focus is maternal mortality in low- and middle-income countries, the authors note that the same approaches that have worked well in developing countries could help reduce rising maternal mortality rates in the United States, where black and indigenous women Women are three times more likely to die than white women in other countries, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Tennis superstar Serena Williams is a striking example of how dangerous it is for black women to have children in America. Williams’ doctors ignored her pleas, and she nearly died from a blood clot after giving birth.
“The fact that Serena Williams came into the system and had to try to convince people and they wouldn’t listen to her — are you kidding me?” France Gates said.
Izadnegahdar noted that standardized care is key. Disparities are reduced when providers use a routine approach to care based on “defined triggers” rather than “subjective assessments,” he said.
Philanthropy and stress
French Gates insists the foundation is offering more than thoughts and prayers when it comes to reducing maternal mortality.
“We can step up our efforts to fund ourselves to demonstrate that we practice what we preach,” she said. “We can call on other philanthropists to step up their funding, and we can call on governments to step up their funding and put pressure on them.”
For those who believe the maternal mortality crisis should be addressed by lawmakers and medical professionals, French Gates insists it’s up to all of us to take action.
“We need citizens to step up and push their own governments and use their voices to say we care about moms and we care about babies. If there’s one thing that’s less political — or shouldn’t be — it’s the survival of moms and babies .”