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Trump’s War on Maternal Health

Around the world, women continue to die from complications arising in childbirth, even though maternal mortality is a problem that we know how to solve. What is missing is not the know-how, but funding and political leaders who are brave enough to put women's health before partisan politics.

WASHINGTON, DC – In December 2014, the cover of Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue featured Salome Karwah, a nursing assistant who not only survived the Ebola epidemic in her native Liberia that year, but also helped waves of patients arriving at her Ebola ward. Karwah was a hero who met a tragic end. One year ago, she died from complications in childbirth, a killer that every month takes twice as many lives as the entire Ebola epidemic.

Childbirth has been dangerous for women and newborns throughout human history. In the nineteenth century, as many as one in 100 pregnancies in Europe ended with the death of the mother. In 1847, Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis demonstrated that he could greatly reduce maternal deaths in his clinic simply by having doctors sterilize their hands. Yet his findings were largely ignored until Louis Pasteur popularized the germ theory of disease over a decade later.

In many countries, including Liberia, maternal-mortality rates are still as high today as they were in Europe during the Victorian era. Though the maternal death rate has declined globally by nearly half since 1990, an estimated 830 women still die from pregnancy-related causes every day. The vast majority of these deaths are due to preventable complications such as bleeding and infection. According to the World Health Organization, many mothers’ lives could be saved simply by injecting oxytocin to stop bleeding, using sterile delivery tools, and delaying pregnancy until adulthood.