Why Women Deliver? Why Now?

Jill Sheffield

Women Deliver marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the global Safe Motherhood Initiative. Its research led to impressive gains in many places, but there is still much more to be done to reduce maternal and newborn deaths.

Just under a year ago I attended the 16th World AIDS Conference in Toronto. I was struck by the way that for several days the gathering put a conversation about HIV/AIDS on the global agenda. Experts from around the world shared lessons learned, new research made daily news and donors lined up to announce increased funding, while mainstream media examined every aspect of the movement to halt the terrible pandemic.

The seeds for Women Deliver were planted right there. We began to plot ways to bring some kind of major global attention to the continuing worldwide devastation of maternal and newborn deaths. Our timing was right: the Safe Motherhood Initiative started in Nairobi 20 years ago, in 1987.

Have we significantly reduced maternal mortality since then around the world? Will we reach Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5, reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015? Not at the rate we are moving now. So can we stand by and just keep doing what we are doing? No way.

I am often asked some good questions about Women Deliver: Do we really need another international conference? How will Women Deliver be different from all previous efforts to move a reproductive health agenda?

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Every minute of every day, a woman dies needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth, most in the developing world. We have all heard this before about HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality. Remember the Broadway play Rent and its lead song, "525,600 Minutes"? Hum along, please. But stop and think: that's ten million women lost in each generation.

The fact of life is that huge disparities exist between rich and poor countries, and between the rich and the poor in all countries.

  • One in 30,000 women in Sweden will die of pregnancy complications.
  • One in 2,500 women will die of these causes in the United States.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 16 women will die in pregnancy or childbirth.
  • In Afghanistan, such complications kill one in every seven women.

We shared these numbers with a colleague in the U.K. recently and she emailed an urgent correction to "the typo in the U.S. numbers." She thought we were missing a zero. But one in 2,500 is correct. The U.S. maternal mortality rate is high, one of the highest among industrialized nations—and the rate for black U.S. women is four times higher than for white non-Hispanic women. For Hispanic women it's higher than that.

So ask yourself, if not now—when? And let's not put it off to an election year when we'd be competing for world press, as we did at Countdown 2015.

  • Women Deliver marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the global Safe Motherhood Initiative. Its research led to impressive gains in many places.
  • We now know how to save the lives of most of the mothers and infants who die needlessly worldwide. But maternal and newborn health still receives inadequate attention and funding.
  • In 2000, world leaders agreed on Millennium Development Goal 5, cutting maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015. This is often called the heart of the MDGs, because if it fails, the other MDGs will too. Women Deliver comes at a point halfway to 2015.

The experts agree: with increased political will and relatively modest financial investment, most women and infants can survive so that their families, communities and nations can thrive.

Think survive and thrive. And think about joining 2,000 world leaders in the health and development community and come to Women Deliver. Our theme is Invest in Women: It Pays!

In upcoming blogs, I will share with you news about speakers, plenary sessions and media outreach along with things you can do to make a difference.

Go to: www.womendeliver.org

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