BALTIMORE — One of the most cherished moments for a woman is giving life. However, for many new mothers, their lives end shortly after giving birth. In one country maternal mortality (the death of a woman from complications of pregnancy and childbirth) has nearly doubled since 1990, despite significant progress in reducing rates globally.
In that same country, more than 50,000 women nearly die annually from a severe complication they experience during pregnancy or childbirth. Shockingly, these sobering statistics do not belong to a third world country, but the United States. The United States, ranks 47th in maternal mortality rates, the worst among industrialized nations.
To address these startling statistics, on November 19, 2013, global healthcare company Merck announced that “Merck for Mothers” launched programs aimed at decreasing the number of women across the United States who die from or suffer severe complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Merck for Mothers is a10-year, $500 million initiative focused on creating a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth
“Merck for Mothers was launched two years ago internationally,” said Dr. Priya Agrawal, executive director of Merck for Mothers. “People think it’s not happening in our backyard. We were shocked to hear the numbers. We realized that we have to address the issue here. The majority of these deaths are preventable.”
The leading causes of maternal death in the U.S. include blood clots (embolism), excessive bleeding (obstetric hemorrhage), and severe high blood pressure (preeclampsia).
“Pregnancy is not a disease,” said Agrawal. “There are warning signs that women can look out for such as blurred vision and a persistent cough. With the arrival of the holidays, women will be traveling. Women at risk for developing clots should stop and stretch their legs during a long journey and take aspirin. There are things they can do to reduce risk.”
Agrawal added that women also need to be actively engaged in partnerships around their health to ensure a safe, childbearing experience.
According to Agrawal, Merck for Mothers is now working in the U.S. to address the following areas: Enhancing community initiatives that coordinate care for high-risk women before, during and after childbirth; implementing standard approaches to address obstetric emergencies; and strengthening data collection and reviews to better understand why maternal deaths are occurring and use that knowledge to improve practices and patient care.
“My goal is that no maternal death goes uncounted and unlearned from. I want to see a national standardized approach to maternal care regardless of income or racial status, and that women who are at higher risk of complications have a viable plan for healthcare,” said Dr. Agrawal. “Our numbers are unacceptable and it’s a tragedy. I want to report that the numbers are going down. However, we cannot do this alone. This has to be a national commitment to women and mothers. No one company can make an impact. We have to do it together.”
While any woman can experience complications such as blood clots, excessive bleeding, or severe high pressure during pregnancy or childbirth, women with chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are at higher risk of dying or nearly dying from them. Agrawal noted that the number of chronic conditions is on the rise, and that one in three women is obese, putting her at higher risk of developing complications.
Baltimore Healthy Start has been awarded one of eight planning grants given nationally by Merck for Mothers. Alma Roberts is president and CEO of Baltimore Healthy Start.
“Baltimore is at the epicenter of this issue,” said Roberts. “In Baltimore, a third of the population is obese. Obesity is also linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and many other diseases. In the city, there is also a huge disparity factor.”
According to Baltimore Healthy Start, the rate of overweight and obese African American women in the city is about 50 percent and the consumption of fast food by African American women in Maryland is among the highest in the nation.
“We are happy to be working with Merck for Mothers to link women at risk for maternal death and disease to care continuously,” said Roberts. “Transportation, access to care, and failing to go back to postpartum visits are huge issues for the women we serve. I deal with these things everyday with our clients. We have a van and double check to make sure they are getting to their visits.”
She added, “The Merck for Mothers program will allow us to enhance our care. The planning grant they have awarded Baltimore Healthy Start, allows us to frame out the model of care that will be available to our clients.”
For more information about Baltimore Healthy Start, visit: www. baltimorehealthystart.org and for more information about Merck for Mothers, visit: www.merckformothers.com.