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Why Families Need Health Care Reform Now More Than Ever


Christy Turlington – Founder of Every Mother Counts; Director/Producer, No Woman, No Cry’

Posted: March 21, 2011 10:52 PM

When I set out to make “No Woman, No Cry, a documentary film about the global state of maternal health three years ago, I had no idea just how dismal a job we were doing for our nation’s families. I was inspired to highlight the under-reported issue of maternal mortality after learning that almost all of the hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths that occur each year are preventable. Yes, 90 percent! And yet, when I came to know these facts, I discovered that little progress had been reported (for decades) in many countries around the world.

We, as a global community, could and should be doing more if we value our women. The majority of the global burden of maternal deaths occurs in the developing world. In fact, 66 percent occur in just 11 countries. While this statistic is an unjust reality, it may not be all that surprising. What did rattle me was the fact that the United States was ranked behind 40 other countries with regard to maternal care, leaving us in 41st place.

As recently as last year, this number has dropped again. According to new UN data released late last year, we now find ourselves behind 49 other countries, positioning ourselves in 50th place when it comes to a woman’s risk of dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

I don’t know about you, but I find this news deplorable. The US spends more on health care per capita than any other country in the world and yet we are 50th in assuring women and children safer outcomes. If anything, I hope this information makes you pause, think and ask the same question I asked myself; how is this possible?

Today marks the first anniversary of Health Care Reform. Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act went into effect last year, now seems like as good an opportunity as any to take account of what was accomplished and what still remains precariously unsteady for those who might need care the most.

Since March 21st, 2010, there are fewer denials for preexisting conditions such as pregnancy and prescriptions drug costs were reduced for seniors. There are one million more young adults that have health insurance and tax credits for small businesses were issued. But the bad news is still pretty bad for American women, particularly for African American women who are at four times greater risk from dying in childbirth.

Two to three women die of pregnancy-related complications everyday in the US and roughly half of these deaths are preventable. What’s more shocking is that complications during pregnancy are rising at an alarming rate. Over thirty-four thousand women nearly die in childbirth each year in the US and until now, no one had even set out to prove why. This is unacceptable. However, earlier this month, Congressman John Conyers introduced the Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011, HR 894, which would provide grant funding for States to establish Maternal Mortality Review Committees to examine pregnancy-related deaths and to identify ways to reduce maternal mortality. The legislation would also help to eliminate disparities in health care, risks, and outcomes.

The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011, as a condition of receiving grants, will require States to do the following: 1. Require health professional and facilities to report all pregnancy-related deaths. 2. Investigate and develop case findings and summaries for maternal deaths. 3. Establish review committees with OB-GYNs, midwives, nurses, social workers, health care facility representatives, members of affected communities, and other relevant stakeholders to recommend prevention strategies. 4. Disseminate findings and recommendations.

We need reliable data on maternal deaths because without it, we are unable to respond to what is clearly a human rights crisis. The Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 is a step towards reducing the needless loss of women’s lives in the US and preventing the complications that have risen steadily in recent decades.

Please encourage your representatives to contact Representative John Conyers to become a co-sponsor of the Maternal Health Accountability Act of 2011 in the 112th Congress.

Every mother counts and deserves access to maternity care to ensure that she and her family can thrive and live productive lives. Every life has equal value and just because I survived my birth complication because I had access to skilled health providers in a timely manner is not good enough for me. Join me in applauding and celebrating the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act and let’s make sure we continue to use our voices to insure every mother her right to maternal health care.

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