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Maternal Health Must Become a Priority in Developing Countries

May 4, 2009

Chicago, IL -- "Mothers are the backbones of communities. When they die, children become orphaned, families are fragmented," said Jean Chamberlain Froese, MD, today during the President's Program at The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 57th Annual Clinical Meeting. Although making pregnancy and childbirth safer in countries where maternal mortality is extraordinarily high can seem like a daunting task, employing practical solutions is possible to improve maternal health and pregnancy outcomes, according to Dr. Froese.

In her presentation, "Where Have All the Mothers Gone?," Dr. Chamberlain Froese spoke about her personal experience working in Uganda to make childbirth safer there. The logical first step in improving a community's overall health care is to improve maternal health, she said, because the equipment and systems necessary for a strong maternal health program also benefit the overall community. "The needs in developing countries are so immense and seem overwhelming, but once you've got the basics for a good maternal health program, you've got a good structure that will help the general population as well," Dr. Chamberlain Froese said.

Communities need to be educated about pregnancy risks and common pregnancy complications so that pregnant women become a priority, according to Dr. Chamberlain Froese. Two key components in reaching this goal include grassroots public education and agenda setting.

Governments need to allocate money toward improving the infrastructure, such as roads, because muddy and pothole-laden roads can make an emergency trip slow and dangerous. In some instances, pregnant women may stand on the side of the road, hemorrhaging while trying to flag down a car or public bus, but no one stops.

Agenda setting among political leaders is key to improving maternal health. Four members of the Ugandan Parliament have participated in a master's of public health (MPH) leadership program overseen by Dr. Chamberlain Froese. This program trains Ugandan professionals from many disciplines to make motherhood safer for African women. One member of the Ugandan Parliament has introduced new legislation to improve safe motherhood.

Awareness is increasing little by little. A Uganda journalist from the national daily newspaper has completed the MPH program and has helped bring attention to the issue. "There was nothing on safe motherhood for three months in the national newspapers. And now there are regular features every one to two weeks that cover issues concerning safe motherhood and reproductive health," Dr. Chamberlain Froese said.

Dr. Chamberlain Froese is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Save the Mothers and assistant professor of ob-gyn at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. For the last four years, she has spent eight months of the year in Uganda overseeing the MPH leadership program. Before that, she spent five years in Yemen improving conditions for pregnant women.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is the nation's leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization, ACOG: strongly advocates for quality health care for women; maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members; promotes patient education; and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women's health care.