WIHI: Against All Odds: Maternal Survival in Ghana and the US

Date: July 15, 2010


  • Nana Twum-Danso, MD, MPH, FACPM, Director, Project Fives Alive!
  • Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, President, New York Academy of Medicine
  • Sue Gullo, RN, MS, Managing Director, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
It’s difficult to assess just how much progress is being made in the decades-long battle to prevent women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth. In April, The Lancet reported that worldwide maternal death rates dropped significantly from 1980 to 2008. The good news wasn’t uniformly shared across the 181 countries studied, but some global health experts felt there was reason for optimism. In May, the Kaiser Family Foundation presented a more sobering picture, suggesting that efforts to fulfill the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by 2015 were not on track.
At the same time, new initiatives in some of the poorest parts of the globe are successfully targeting maternal health and delivering healthy prognoses for women and newborns alike. The work draws upon existing resources, takes into account geography and available transportation, respects local traditions, and utilizes the tools of quality improvement. In mostly rural northern Ghana, for instance, greater numbers of pregnant women are for the first time gaining access to skilled deliveries in clinics and hospitals – especially crucial when mother and baby may be in distress and most at risk.
WIHI host Madge Kaplan welcomes Dr. Nana Twum-Danso (Director of Project Fives Alive! in Ghana), Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, and Sue Gullo to the program to share their frontline experiences on behalf of improved maternal health in Africa, New York City, and across the US. The trio will help connect the global dots about best practices in challenging settings. They’ll also discuss striking similarities between efforts to reduce maternal mortality in Africa and new approaches springing up in underserved and poor communities in the US.
And what of the differences? How can a country such as the US, with skyrocketing numbers of C-sections, frequent use of powerful medications to induce labor, and technology to address just about every imaginable situation work its way back to something closer to community and support, helping more women feel empowered before, during, and after childbirth? How can we prevent highly medicalized, high-tech births from becoming the “gold standard” for countries that have suffered from resource disadvantages for so long? One key is understanding the alternative approaches and making sure these become more widely known.
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