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Opinion: Governments Must Take ‘Concrete Action’ To Reduce Maternal Mortality, Morbidity

With the U.N. Human Rights Council’s June session coming up, governments have a “chance to prove that they value women’s lives by taking concrete action” to recognize “preventable maternal death as a violation of women’s rights,” Mary Robinson and Alicia Yamin, advisory council members of the International Initiative on Maternal Mortality and Human Rights, write in a Boston Globe opinion piece.

In this “critical year” leading up to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) review in 2010, the council has an “historic opportunity in its June session to recognize the need to incorporate human rights into programs and policies designed to combat maternal deaths and encourage international cooperation and assistance in this area,” Robinson and Yamin write.

Although “we know what is needed to save women’s lives” women are still dying or “left with lifelong, debilitating complications. Moreover, when mothers die, children are at greater risk of dropping out of school, becoming malnourished, and simply not surviving. Not only is maternal mortality and morbidity a global health emergency, but it triggers and aggravates cycles of poverty that cause generations of suffering and despair,” Robinson and Yamin write, adding that “saving women’s lives” would cost an estimated additional “$6 billion a year to be on track to achieve” the U.N. MDGs.

They write that “poor governments” will not “be blamed for not doing what they cannot do,” but asserting that these “preventable deaths are an issue of human rights” highlights the “profound injustice of disparities in maternal deaths” and makes it “more urgent that donor states honor their funding commitments.”

Robinson and Yamin conclude that the U.S., as a new member of the Human Rights Council, “has the chance to lead the way in promoting a woman’s right to go through pregnancy and childbirth in safety and, just as important, to back up that assertion with adequate funding commitments” (Robinson/Yamin, Boston Globe, 6/4).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.