No More Orphans: PADF and Merck work to Reduce Maternal Mortality

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Worldwide, a woman dies every two minutes due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. As a mother, I find it alarming that women continue to die from treatable conditions, leaving children behind. A perilous domino effect occurs when a mother dies. The effect on the family is devastating; an orphaned infant is twice as likely to die before age two and orphaned children are ten times more likely to quit school. The reverberations of a mother’s death also transcend the family to negatively affect her community and her nation.

Though maternal mortality in Mexico has decreased by 37.5 percent since 2002, 1,100 maternal deaths were recorded in Mexico in 2013. Women continue to die at unacceptable rates, according to the United Nations. To further reduce maternal mortality rates, the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) has partnered with the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck Sharpe & Dohme and Observatorio de Mortalidad Materna (OMM) to carry out a two-year initiative in Mexico under the Merck for Mothers Global Giving program.

Through this program, PADF brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors to develop an electronic toolkit to inform national and regional policies to reduce maternal mortality throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. Data is available to the public on www.nomashuerfanos.org.

By gathering, analyzing, and publishing this data, PADF and Merck seek to identify the practices that are most effective in preventing maternal mortality. In fact, most maternal deaths are preventable. The solutions to prevent and manage complications are well known but remain unavailable to many women. Two of the major causes of maternal death—hemorrhage and preeclampsia—are preventable or treatable conditions, given the right knowledge and tools.

The No Más Huérfanos digital platform aggregates maternal mortality data to provide a rich picture of the current state of health of the 57 million women in Mexico. A woman’s educational background, age, socio-economic status, and geographic location all directly correlate to her risk-level during pregnancy and as a result of childbirth.

OMM also conducted an analysis in the highlands of Chiapas, where the majority of the population is indigenous and the maternal mortality rate is almost double the national average. The objective is to identify inconsistencies or inaccurately recorded health information in order to develop recommendations for improving data collection.

This initiative is part of PADF’s ongoing efforts to support at-risk populations and vulnerable communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. As the development and humanitarian arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), PADF’s projects have reached more than 35 million people in the last three years alone. In Mexico, PADF has worked with the Government of Mexico and corporate partners such as Telefónica, Cinépolis, Viacom, Boeing, Altos Hornos de México and others to launch awareness campaigns about important issues. A recent campaign to combat child labor in Mexico reached more than 7.5 million people across the country. More recently, our partnership with Merck aims to shine a light on the risks associated with motherhood in Mexico.

Worldwide, most maternal deaths occur in developing countries. We can no longer ignore the problem of maternal mortality and the social and economic drivers of health inequity. It’s time to empower women through education and learn the root causes and social factors behind the numbers. Stronger, healthier mothers lead to a stronger, healthier Mexico.

Caterina Valero is Senior Programs Director at the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) www.padf.org