I just finished reading an incredible book called, “The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line.” It’s a fascinating read, and although it doesn’t discuss maternal health in the United States as a human rights crisis, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in Amnesty International as I read this book. I think Amnesty could have uncovered some of what the author uncovered, and was in the right place in the right time with this issue. Why the organization dropped the campaign, I don’t know.
Amnesty International and Maternal Health
Amnesty International started its “Maternal Health as a Human Right” campaign in 2010, specifically targeting four countries for improvement: Peru, Burkina Faso, Sierre Leone, and the United States. Around the world, one woman dies every 90 seconds from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. At the start of the campaign, the U.S ranked 41st in the world for maternal mortality. Now, we rank 49th. For the United States, our primary action toward this problem was two-fold. First, increase awareness to the fact that two women die everyday in this country from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and half of those are preventable. If I remember correctly, we had a billboard in Times Square that went up every 90 seconds to count the women who die.
Second, ask President Obama to establish an Office of Maternal Health to lead government action to reduce soaring pregnancy-related complications and maternal deaths nationwide. An Office of Maternal Health would be a major step toward improving maternal health in this country, because Amnesty International (and Business of Baby) point out several factors that have allowed this problem to get to where it is today:
- The lack of nationally standardized protocols addressing the leading causes of death — or the inconsistent use of them — may lead to preventable deaths or injuries. Measures used widely in the United Kingdom to prevent blood clots after Caesarian sections are not consistently taken in the United States, for example.
- Many women are not given a say in decisions about their care and do not get enough information about the signs of complications and the risks of interventions such as inducing labor or cesarean sections.
- The number of deaths is significantly understated because there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths or complications and data collection at the state level is insufficient.
- Oversight and accountability are lacking. Twenty nine states and the District of Columbia have no maternal death review process at all.
If we can get hospitals and doctors to evaluate the problem, to collect information regarding deaths and the effectiveness of certain procedures and treatments, then we would have the necessary information on the changes that need to be made to improve maternal health in this country. Incorporating a review process and setting standards would also make it easier to hold someone accountable if something goes wrong. As of now, the only way to get any accountability is to sue for malpractice, which doesn’t address the systemic problems affecting maternal health.
Where Did This Campaign Go?
Personally, I don’t know. Someone might, but that person isn’t me. I don’t know if Amnesty decided to prioritize something else, or if budget got in the way, or if something else entirely different happened. What I do know is that Amnesty International dropped the ball on something huge here. Business of Baby illustrates how huge this really is, and Amnesty could have been a part of that and could have contributed to real progress. We wouldn’t have had to wait for an investigative reporter to uncover all of this and to get people going.