Tackling the U.S. maternal mortality crisis

September 1, 2019

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When we listen and respond to the needs of all women, our solutions become stronger.

“I walked down this road … not knowing what to expect,” says Melissa*, a pregnant woman and client in Camden. “I was hurting, physically and emotionally. I was scared and broken. This two-block walk felt like 200 miles, but I made it there and made it inside. I asked for help and received it with welcoming arms… This is where I found out my beautiful baby boy would be here in a few short months.”

Through the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, a community-based organization working to improve maternal health and supported by Merck for Mothers, Melissa was able to seek the support she needed during her pregnancy.

The U.S. maternal mortality crisis

Today, the U.S. is the only high-income country where maternal mortality is on the rise. Sixty percent of these deaths are preventable, and the racial disparities are stark and persistent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a black woman is three to four times more likely to die from a pregnancy or childbirth complication than a white woman.

To tackle this crisis, Merck for Mothers – our company’s $500M global health initiative to create a world where no woman has to die giving life – is expanding its work in the U.S. Our efforts are focused on addressing the leading contributors to maternal mortality and morbidity in the country: lack of data; inconsistent obstetric care; increase in chronic conditions; and limited awareness of the problem.

Making pregnancy and childbirth safer across the country

As part of our work, we partner with community-based organizations which are pioneering new integrated care models in which community health workers and doulas support high-risk women throughout pregnancy and the post-partum period. Like the care received by the pregnant woman in Camden, these programs are critical to improving the connection to services and care coordination for pregnant and postpartum women.

In late 2018, Merck for Mothers launched Safer Childbirth Cities, a multi-city initiative to improve outcomes and reduce disparities in maternal health. As part of this commitment, we asked organizations across the country to apply and share how they would help make their cities safer – and more equitable – places to give birth.

This September, we announced the inaugural class: community-designed solutions addressing maternal mortality in nine cities across the U.S. Each project will be tailored to the needs of pregnant women in their respective city and pursue solutions that are most impactful for their communities. Organizations include the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Baltimore Healthy Start, as well as the Health Federation of Philadelphia, among others.

“The reality is that there are so many organizations and individuals across the country who are supporting maternal health efforts,” notes Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, Merck for Mothers lead and executive director. “Through Safer Childbirth Cities, we’re hoping to bring all these different pieces together. By connecting everyone’s insights, resources and experiences, and applying those learnings to what is most needed in an individual community, we hope to scale solutions that have greater impact for expectant mothers.”

For the inaugural class, Safer Childbirth Cities will also be co-funded with the Burke Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, the Community Health Acceleration Partnership, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and Rhia Ventures.

Learn more about Safer Childbirth Cities, including the projects in the inaugural class, as well as how to get involved in the future.

*Name changed