That translates to approximately one death every two minutes. In an era with so much innovation across all areas of medicine and healthcare, these statistics are both staggering and unacceptable.
In September 2011, we joined the global effort to reduce maternal mortality by launching Merck for Mothers. Building on our legacy of tackling urgent global health challenges such as river blindness, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, Merck for Mothers aims to create a world where no woman has to die giving life. It is a 10-year commitment to bring the issue of maternal mortality to the forefront of global consciousness, develop new technologies and speed lifesaving solutions to women across the globe. While substantial progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality globally in the past 20 years, we are still losing too many mothers, and more needs to be done.
Merck for Mothers is mobilizing the company’s science and business expertise—in addition to our financial and human resources—to accelerate progress in saving women’s lives around the world. We are focusing on the two leading causes of maternal deaths—postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia—as well as on family planning, which is known to play an important role in reducing maternal mortality.
The initiative aims to help governments reach targets 5A and 5B of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which call for the reduction of the global maternal mortality rate by 75 percent and universal access to reproductive health by 2015, respectively. Regrettably, achievement of MDG 5 is lagging furthest behind that of all other MDGs.
The Merck for Mothers strategy emerged from consultations with hundreds of global health experts, who helped ensure that our approach was informed, comprehensive and complementary to maternal health efforts already under way. In its first year, Merck for Mothers has established partnerships with governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs, businesses, physicians and researchers—all dedicated to reducing maternal mortality.
The initiative focuses on three main areas: access to proven solutions, product innovation, and awareness and advocacy.
In the next decade, it is estimated that nearly 3 million women may die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. The majority of these maternal deaths are preventable. While the medical solutions are known, the challenge is making sure that women have access to these solutions when they need them. That is why Merck for Mothers is working with governments and global health experts to develop innovative programs in regions of the world with high numbers of maternal deaths.
This spring, Merck for Mothers joined forces with the U.S. government on an ambitious initiative to aggressively reduce maternal mortality in select districts of Uganda and Zambia. “Saving Mothers, Giving Life” is a new five-year public-private partnership that also includes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Government of Norway, and the advocacy organization Every Mother Counts. Merck for Mothers is the management arm, or secretariat, for the initiative, helping to guide its strategic direction, support on-the-ground program implementation and evaluation efforts, and raise public awareness about the issue of maternal mortality.
I am very pleased that the United States will be a part of the “Saving Mothers, Giving Life” partnership, along with Merck for Mothers, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Every Mother Counts, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. We’re not focusing on a single intervention, but on strengthening health systems. I think back to that day when I had my daughter and how fortunate I was. But surviving childbirth and growing up healthy should not be a matter of luck, or where you live, or how much money you have. It should be a fact for every woman, everywhere.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State
With Merck for Mothers, we have set out to learn how we can apply our long-standing experience in innovative product development to resource-limited settings. In partnership with PATH, a leader in health technology, Merck for Mothers is evaluating more than 40 maternal health solutions that have the potential to make a significant impact in saving women’s lives. Our scientists hope to identify the three to five most promising prevention, diagnostic, and treatment innovations by year’s end, and then develop a strategy to get them into the hands of healthcare workers as effectively and efficiently as possible.
When a mother dies, the ripple effect on families and communities can echo for generations. In fact, her newborn is much less likely to see a second birthday. Her other children are many times more likely to die and many times less likely to attend school. Maternal mortality is a complex problem that will take governments, private health professionals and citizens to solve. In order to keep achievement of MDG 5 within reach, it is critical that governments around the world—including the U.S. government—recognize the value of saving women’s lives and make this issue a healthcare priority.