Fresh Takes

What I See: Christy Turlington Burns on supporting moms around the world

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Photo of a mother and her child standing in a field in Bangladesh
Photo by Josh Estey | Every Mother Counts

E very day, more than 800 women around the world die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. That’s one woman every two minutes. I founded Every Mother Counts in 2010 to raise awareness about this critical issue and to help make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mom, everywhere. Every Mother Counts currently supports programs that improve access to maternity care in Bangladesh, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Tanzania and the United States.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I chose six photos from around the world that demonstrate the urgency of our work and remind me that change is possible. If you're feeling inspired, you can learn more about what you can do to help support mothers around the world.

A woman in Tanzania stands in the brush with her baby slung on her back.
Photo courtesy of Every Mother Counts
Tanzania
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two out of three global deaths from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. In Tanzania—where women have a 1 in 45 lifetime risk of maternal death—access to transportation, poor roads, and severely limited resources prevent many women from accessing quality care in a health facility or with a skilled birth attendant. Fewer than one-third of all births in Tanzania occur in places with safe water and basic sanitation. For women who are able to access a facility, they face yet another challenge: the country suffers from a tremendous shortage of health care workers, with about 1 physician for every 50,000 individuals.
A woman stands in front of a farm in Guatemala while holding her baby.
Photo by Janet Jarman | Every Mother Counts
Guatemala
Guatemala has the highest maternal mortality rate in Central America and is one of the few Latin American countries where Indigenous populations comprise the majority. In Guatemala—where most indigenous people are not Spanish-speaking and hold strong, cultural traditions around childbirth— government-sponsored health care is limited and often only provided in Spanish. In addition, government hospitals and clinics are understaffed, limited in supplies, and are known to discriminate against poor, indigenous women. Sadly, these are but a few of the reasons Guatemala’s indigenous Mayan women are twice as likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth than non-indigenous women.
Photo of a mother and her child standing in a field in Bangladesh
Photo by Josh Estey | Every Mother Counts
Bangladesh
Despite reducing maternal deaths by nearly 70% between 1990 and 2015, Bangladesh’s maternal mortality rate has recently stagnated. More than 5,000 women still die every year from pregnancy-related causes—largely due to a shortage of trained healthcare workers in rural areas. In fact, nearly 50% of women give birth without a skilled provider. Since 2017, nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled persecution in Myanmar, flooding into camps in the Cox’s Bazar region. With tens of thousands of pregnant women and lactating mothers now residing in the region, maternity care needs have become all the more urgent.
5,000+
More than 5,000 women still die every year from pregnancy-related causes in Bangladesh.
A woman holds her baby in one arm and a bag of produce from the farm she works in India in the other.
Photo by Lynsey Addario
India
Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls globally. Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than other women. With more than 15 million child brides, India has more instances of child marriage than any other country in the world. Additionally, low-income and tribal women face systemic barriers when accessing the essential services they need most. That’s millions of girls and women whose potential is cut short way too soon.
An American woman who is pregnant sits in a red chair in her living room
Photo courtesy of Every Mother Counts
United States
The United States has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Today, it is ranked 46th, making the U.S. the only industrialized country with a rising maternal mortality rate. The causes in the U.S. are often the same as in any other country with a relatively high maternal mortality rate: postpartum hemorrhage, infection, and eclampsia, to name a few. However, a major driver of maternal health disparities in the U.S. is racism. Racial disparities in America are dramatically and disproportionately impacting the health of our women of color. A black woman is three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications compared to her white counterparts. In New York City alone, a black woman is up to 12 times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth.
A Haitian woman sits on a bed whole holding her newborn child.
Photo courtesy of Every Mother Counts
Haiti
Haiti has the highest maternal mortality ratio in the Western hemisphere. Approximately one of every 80 women in Haiti will die from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. In rural Haiti, poor infrastructure(such as road conditions) significantly reduces the likelihood of timely prenatal and postpartum care. Only 68% of pregnant women in Haiti receive a minimum of four prenatal visits. About 70% of mothers in Haiti give birth at home without a skilled birth attendant or access to emergency obstetric care, and this number rises to 90% among the poorest Haitian women, particularly in rural regions.

Posted: May 10, 2019
Edition: Impatience


The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.