Top Strategies for Improving Maternal Mortality: Lessons from Haiti

As a humanitarian and medical nonprofit founder working in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, I discovered several issues contributing to extremely high maternal and infant mortality rates in the region we served. By implementing a few key strategies to improve both, we decreased maternal mortality by 66%. I believe these same tactics could be used to address the issue here in the United States, which has just reported another sharp increase.  

The first and most beneficial step is education – not just about maternal health, but increasing education levels for women across the board. Beyond global access to primary education, we must make secondary and tertiary education more accessible to women from lower income brackets. Providing safe and affordable non-abortifacient birth control is necessary so women can pursue higher education, providing long-term benefits to their families and societies as they become leaders in the workplace.

Alongside this comes education at the community level regarding maternal health issues. Community nursing, volunteer education programs, dissemination of written materials and any other means we can think of must be employed to ensure that pregnant women understand what they need to do to keep their bodies and their babies healthy during pregnancy, along with what danger signs to look out for. The Commonwealth Fund reported that the U.S. had the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, often due to preventable and treatable conditions, such as elevated rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Just as we have discovered in the developing world, many women don’t understand the complications of pregnancy resulting from these issues and the simple steps they can take to mitigate that risk. 

As we educate moms about their own health, we must also improve the quality of healthcare available to them. We know this is an accessibility and affordability issue, affecting communities of color disproportionately. I encourage support for several bills in Congress to address these issues, including the Black Maternal “Momnibus” Act of 2021 and the Protecting Moms Who Served Act. And again, improving higher education opportunities for women helps them secure higher-paying jobs with better healthcare benefits.

Finally, we must continue to push for equal freedoms and opportunities for women or those who are discriminated against in societies where poverty, status or ethnicity play a role in how people are treated. Part of this involves improving access to higher paying, lower risk jobs so people can improve their family’s financial status without endangering their own health. This is just as true in the U.S. as it is anywhere in the world. 

The reports about rising maternal mortality here at home are a wake-up call for those of us who may have been more focused in recent years on health improvements in developing nations where poverty and disease are rampant. It reminds us of the value of every individual life and that we can’t take anyone’s health for granted. Let’s work together to employ these global strategies even more here in the States and save the lives of women and the children who need them.

About the Author: David Vanderpool, MD, is a surgeon who leads the international nonprofit, LiveBeyond, which established a base in Haiti in 201,0, providing clean water, nutritional support and healthcare to the poor of Thomazeau, Haiti. The LiveBeyond base has a hospital that offers surgical, maternal delivery, and general medical services to the population, which has seen demand significantly increase due to rising violence in Haiti. Their efforts have improved maternal mortality rates in the region by 66%.


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