San Diego, CA -- “I was shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of women die each year during childbirth—and that 90% of these deaths are preventable,” said Christy Turlington Burns. Ms. Burns, global maternal health advocate, model, and filmmaker, along with author, producer, and documentary filmmaker Tonya Lewis Lee, headlined a special session at The American College of Obstetricians and Gyncologists’ (The College) 60th Annual Clinical Meeting on the problem of maternal and infant mortality here in the US and worldwide.
“I’m so pleased that Ms. Turlington Burns and Ms. Lewis Lee could join us today to focus our attention on the high rate of maternal and infant mortality, both globally and here in the US,” said James N. Martin, Jr, MD, president of The College. “We share their commitment to ensuring that pregnancy and childbirth is as safe as possible for women around the world and to reducing these unacceptably high rates of maternal and child deaths.
During the birth of her first child, Ms. Turlington Burns suffered a serious complication. Her birth team worked quickly to manage the situation, but the experience left her “needing to learn more about maternal deaths,” she said. Ms. Turlington Burns went on to found Every Mother Counts, an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education and support to reduce global maternal mortality.
In 2010, Ms. Turlington Burns released her documentary film, “No Woman, No Cry,” that tells the stories of at-risk pregnant women in four parts of the world: a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum in Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic in the US. “I was inspired to make a documentary film that would share the stories of women at risk of becoming a mortality statistic,” said Ms. Turlington Burns. “I hope that by bringing people together through the universal experience of birth, we can help create a mainstream maternal health movement that ensures the lives and well-being of mothers worldwide, for generations to come.”
“Every year, 8,000 African American children die during their first year of life,” said Ms. Lewis Lee. “As a mother, this really concerns me. Our babies are dying at three times the rate of white babies before their first birthday.” Ms. Lewis Lee is the spokeswoman for “A Healthy Baby Begins with You,” a national infant mortality campaign launched in 2007 sponsored by the Office of Minority Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Her documentary “Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nation’s Babies,” focuses on the high infant mortality rate in the black community here in the US. Much of the film was shot in Memphis, which has a high black infant mortality rate.
According to Ms. Lewis Lee, the most recent World Health Organization report shows that the US ranks 40th in the world for infant mortality. Babies born in the US are more likely to die during the first month of life than babies born in Cuba, Poland, and the entire industrialized world. “It’s not that we are doing worse than before, but we have been very slow to make progress and have a very long way to go to eliminate the disparities.”
Although the US infant mortality rate has remained steady at 6.75 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, the black community continues to have the highest infant mortality rate at 13.3 per 1,000 live births. By comparison, the infant mortality for whites was 5.6 per 1,000 live births. “These disparate rates indicate not only the need for further research but the need to implement what we already know works,” said Ms. Lewis Lee. Research shows that preconception health care is essential in reducing prematurity and low birth weight, the main causes of infant mortality.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), a 501(c)(3) organization, is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 56,000 members, The College 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. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a 501(c)(6) organization, is its companion organization. www.acog.org