I arrived back from a trip recently to find the US in full bloom for Mother’s Day. And while I look at the flowers and cards celebrating the holiday, my mind goes back to the mothers and families I just left in Tanzania.
Over the last two decades, there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of maternal deaths worldwide. However, nearly 800 women still die every day from treatable complications of pregnancy and childbirth — with most of these deaths (99%) happening in developing countries.
Yet, at three health facilities in Tanzania, I saw the same thing: staff passionately committed to improving maternal and newborn health. However, their efforts are hampered by poor infrastructure — from drug stock-outs to lack of generators and blood banks. A shortage of maternity beds at one hospital left several women sharing mattresses on the ground.
We know that the safest place for a woman to deliver is with a skilled birth attendant at a “functional” health facility. But we risk not delivering on our promise to women if we fail to improve human resources, essential supplies, and quality of services at these sites.
The challenges I saw in Tanzania — common to many of the 22 countries where MCSP works — are also opportunities. While working to increase community demand for safe child birth services, we remain mindful that facilities must be ready and equipped to offer high-quality and respectful care for women, newborns and their families.
The highest risk of maternal death occurs during labor, birth and the 24 hours following birth. To reach our goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths within a generation, we must continue to promote a core package of interventions in well-equipped health facilities. This includes tools and strategies to improve the management of complications such as postpartum hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, infection, birth asphyxia, and preterm birth.
This Mother’s Day, I reflect on the incredible good fortune of having two healthy children of my own, and I wish this joy for all mothers. No matter where they live, MCSP and partners are meeting women and their families where they are — in the community and the facility — to ensure equitable access to high-quality health care services.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Koki Agarwal, MD, MPH, DrPH