Harvard School of Public Health Discusses Maternal Mortality

Maternal mortality took center stage at the Harvard School of Public Health in a forum discussion moderated by reporter and Huffington Post columnist Lisa Belkin last Friday.

The discussion, which was co-hosted by HSPH and the Huffington Post, included advocate and former model Christy Turlington Burns, Dean of the School of Public Health Julio Frenk, and Coordinator of the Dean's Special Initiative in Women and Health Ana Langer.

The forum drew a crowd of about 40 people and was simultaneously broadcast live through the HSPH online forum, which allowed experts and activists from around the world to participate in the discussion and ask questions in an effort to pool resources and knowledge about maternal mortality.

“I look forward to hearing what other groups of professionals are doing about this issue,” said Holly E. Rawizza, a research fellow at HSPH who said she has been involved in women’s health projects in Africa for seven years.

“Women are the key solution to the problem,” said Frenk, emphasizing that women can serve as advocates for themselves and others to increase awareness of issues related to maternal health.

Drawing from his experience as former Health Minister of Mexico, Frenk said that maternal mortality can serve as a stepping stone in a broader campaign to address women’s health in the developing world.

HSPH student Sara C. Jenks said she appreciated that Frenk recognized that maternal mortality is the tip of the iceberg in understanding women’s health. “I thought it was really fascinating when Frenk mentioned how women who don’t die during childbirth will be the ones who will have other diseases later in life,” Jenks said.

Langer stressed the importance of attacking the problem on both medical and social fronts. “Women are not considered an asset that is valuable enough to invest what needs to be invested in terms of eradicating preventable maternal death,” she said.

As director of the Maternal Health Task Force program, Langer said she hopes to promote the training of a new generation of health experts in countries heavily affected by maternal mortality.

Burns, founder of the campaign Every Mother Counts and director of the documentary film “No Woman No Cry,” emphasized the importance of advocacy. “Information is empowerment,” she said.

Burns, who is best known for her modeling career, said during the forum that she believes that people need to understand maternal mortality as a “global tragedy” where “everybody is a stakeholder in the life of everybody else.”

In an interview with the Crimson, Burns said that her mission is far from accomplished. “I’ll be out there, I’ll do what I can to have more of an impact,” she said.

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