Preventing Death in Childbirth is More than a Healthcare Issue

(3BL Media and Just Means) - Count to 120. Pause and give thanks for your partner, wife, mother or sister who survived childbirth. Every two minutes, around the world, a woman dies from complications experienced during pregnancy. The most horrific part about this current reality is that most of these deaths are preventable.

But have hope because doctors, hospitals, pharmacists and women are working together to change this. Merck for Mothers, a program started by the American-based, pharmaceutical company, Merck, has invested $500 million dollars over ten years in order to “create a world where no woman dies from giving life.” Merck for Mothers is working with many NGO and government partners in 30 countries on systemic problems, which contribute to death in childbirth, such as healthcare infrastructure, a lack of communication between doctors and soon-to-be mothers about childbirth risks, transportation limitations and poverty.

“It’s not just a healthcare issue,” says Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Merck. “It won’t be solved by a pill. It’s a variety of larger, system-based, cultural and urban issues.”

In developing nations like Zambia, India and Indonesia, transportation is one of the largest issues.

“Many women live very far from a city center and the roads are not good in Africa, I’ve seen women carried in a basket to the hospital. Or women start to move close in the capital to wait there until they deliver,” explains Dr. Rosenblatt.

Merck for Mothers is focusing their efforts specifically in urban centers like Baltimore. Yes, you read that right.  According to the National Women’s Law Center, Maryland is ranked 45th in the nation when it comes to rates of maternal mortality, startling statistics considering Baltimore is home to some of the nation’s most prestigious healthcare institutions like Johns Hopkins. In fact, the United States’ maternal mortality rates have doubled in the last twenty years, ranking 64th in the world. No one is really sure why.

What doctors and healthcare experts do know is that the three main causes of childbirth death are what Merck for Mothers has called PEP: preeclampsia (severe high blood pressure), embolism (pulmonary blood clot) and post-partum hemorrhage (severe bleeding). Dr. Rosenblatt and Merck for Mothers are encouraging anyone pregnant or considering becoming pregnant – and their family members – to have a “PEP Talk” with their healthcare professional about these potential pregnancy complications.

“In the US we lose 60,000 women each year to maternity deaths. Many women don’t have prenatal care or they come to emergency rooms at the last minute. Women here don’t know about PEP. They don’t know it can happen,” says Rosenblatt.

Jennifer Albert was one of those women. Albert barely survived complications during childbirth. She was in the hospital for ten days and needed seventeen blood transfusions—almost double the amount of blood in her body—after she began to hemorrhage during labor.

“It wasn’t even a conversation with my doctor. I didn’t know what to do when I started to hemorrhage. I was in severe pain for months and felt really defeated. I had a hard time getting out of bed. I was a runner and lived a very active lifestyle . . . . During my pregnancy I was thinking about what I was going to do to care for the baby, those precious moments of bonding we would have together, but I wasn’t able to take care of her. Immediately, I had to think about 24-hour care for my daughter,” Albert shares.  

Albert encourages women to actively ask questions and research potential complications.

“Don’t be afraid to speak up. Have an advocate with you throughout the process and plan to give birth at a medical facility who knows how to properly handle complications,” stresses Albert.

Merck for Mothers and partners are helping twelve U.S. states build their capacity to review cases of maternal deaths to understand why women died and use the findings to drive change in policy and practice. Work in the first six states—Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, New York and Ohio—is in progress. Merck’s vision is to help create a world where no woman dies giving life. The company believes that together, with their partners, pregnancy and childbirth can be made a more safe, healthy, and joyful experience for women.

Read about Merck for Mothers. Have a look at their Program Report Learn how to have a PEP talk with your doctor.