In just a few months, the new year will usher in the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- a series of eight goals created by the United Nations (UN) in 2000 intended to aid international growth and improvement. Our advancement in some -- such as combatting HIV, malaria and other diseases -- has been significant. Unfortunately, the development goal that lags furthest behind the others is a worldwide improvement in maternal health.
The numbers illuminate the problem. Last year alone, roughly 300,000 women died globally from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, such as HIV/AIDS, hemorrhage, hypertension, pulmonary embolism, sepsis, unsafe abortion and obstructed labor -- deaths that could have been avoided. These deaths left families, including newborns, without mothers. And, the effects of these conditions also impacted countless more pregnant women and mothers who survived, but whose health may have deteriorated as a result.
This is unacceptable. We must stop overlooking women when we discuss health care -- both in America, and in the rest of the world.
The UN is addressing this issue at an event it is hosting this week. The theme of the event, "Partnering for Health: Delivering for Every Woman & Every Child Within a Generation," captures the approach that will help to make significant inroads in the health of the world's mothers: collaboration.
Although the MDG program officially ends next year, our work is just beginning. Our strategy, to create networks of education and treatment dedicated to quality care for women, is built on the fundamental understanding that every woman deserves access to the care she needs to deliver a healthy baby.
And let us not forget that the health of women directly impacts the health of a whole society. Well women are better equipped to raise healthy children, and healthy women stimulate economic productivity and growth.
Internationally, ACOG is working with partners to improve women's health and to reduce maternal mortality. How? By leveraging our experience and providing it to caregivers on the ground; by expanding the roles of members of the community; and by bringing low-cost solutions and high-quality training to the countries that need it most.
In other words, we are taking the "teach a man to fish" philosophy to the people who can directly implement change. We are training the trainers, teaching our partners how to spur safe, high-quality care through postgraduate courses and professional association development.
Together, we are preparing caregivers to address some of the most preventable causes of maternal death worldwide, including trauma and violence, unsafe abortions, hemorrhage, hypertension, blood clots, sepsis and other infections, and quite simply, inability to access care.
Although these conditions are preventable, they remain a threat both internationally and domestically. Shockingly, maternal morbidity has actually worsened in the U.S. in recent decades, despite a health care system that can, and should, serve American patients well. According to one recent study, the U.S. was one of eight countries where maternal death rates worsened between 2003 and 2013. We can do better.
That's why we must promote team-based care and quality improvement initiatives here, as well. We must eliminate the disparities that hurt women and create a system of care that serves everyone equally.
Lastly, we also must remember that women's health -- even reproductive health -- begins well before pregnancy. Women deserve access to contraceptives, and they deserve access to quality care that keeps them healthy. By allowing women to be well, and to choose when to become pregnant, we can create a system that promotes maternal and newborn health from day one.
Access to health care, and reproductive care, is a basic human right -- no matter where a woman lives. It is time for us to deliver on our commitment to the world's mothers.