An Investment Tip for G-20 Leaders

This week, G-20 nation leaders will come to Pittsburgh, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate how perseverance has reversed the many setbacks of past decades. In football terms, this city has made a great comeback. But as we in Pennsylvania take pride in our accomplishments we must also think more broadly about investments to make the world a better, more secure place - particularly for women, who bear the brunt of global poverty. Our support can help make a difference.

It is no exaggeration to say that the health and well-being of millions of women around the world depend on the problem-solving skills of G-20 delegates. When assessing what needs to be done to set a path for sustainable growth, I hope the need for a global maternal health strategy makes the priority list. CARE's President Dr. Helene Gayle recently summed it up in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This is an investment in women, their families and the economic productivity of nations."

Maternal mortality is a preventable global tragedy. Every minute of every day a woman somewhere in the world dies in pregnancy or childbirth - 99 percent of those deaths occur in poor countries. Even the United States is by no means immune to this scourge - 40 countries show better maternal survival rates than ours. The good news is that we can change this status quo. The centerpiece of this change is the political will to get the job done.

Mothers everywhere show some universal habits. They send their kids to school if possible. They do their best to keep their kids healthy. They help their families make ends meet, especially when times are exceptionally tough. Women are also the ones who do two-thirds of the world's work and produce nearly 60 percent of the world's food. When a mother passes away it is a catastrophe for her family. The effects ripple throughout her community, her nation and our world.

Maternal mortality leaves a million children motherless every year. Those unfortunate children are less likely to receive an education, vaccinations or other healthcare. They are more likely to live their entire lives in poverty. In fact, motherless newborns are up to 10 times more likely to die than newborns with surviving mothers. These maternal and newborn deaths represent an estimated annual loss of $15.5 billion in productivity. The bottom line is that in order to foster sustainable economic growth anywhere, healthy mothers are needed.

Ten years ago this month, 189 countries pledged to work toward the Millennium Development Goals. These goals, which set out the primary global development priorities of our time, underscored maternal survival as an essential element of reaching other humanitarian objectives. Child survival is impossible to address without saving mothers. Controlling HIV and expanding access to education depend upon more women surviving childbirth.

Therefore, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters by the year 2015. However, today it's the one goal most lagging behind. It's time for the members of the G-20 to recommit and refocus.

We know exactly what must be done to improve maternal mortality rates. When women have access to decent healthcare throughout pregnancy and childbirth, almost all survive whatever complications arise. But in developing nations, about 40 percent of women give birth at home, without a skilled healthcare worker. For these women, infections, uncontrolled bleeding and other easily corrected problems too often turn deadly. Routine, inexpensive antibiotics and sanitary conditions for childbirth can make a difference. Family planning services can provide options for birth spacing. Training more health workers to meet these needs will save the lives of mothers and their newborns.

We hope that the G-20 delegates can make solid progress on addressing maternal mortality and other priority issues during their time in Pittsburgh. Reducing maternal mortality is a challenge that requires a global strategy, but people who set their goals high and persevere through adversity can accomplish a great deal. For proof, just look at the city around you.

The writer, Mary Day Kent, is the Pennsylvania Field Coordinator for CARE USA