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Maternal Health non profit speaking at Aspen Ideas Fest

World Health Organization
Say et al. Lancet 2014

This year, Aspen Ideas Fest's health panel is featuring the non profit Every Mother Counts, an organization dedicated to improving the lives and outcomes of women around the world. Founded by Christy Turlington Burns in 2010, Every Mother Counts partners with providers in the U. S. and across the world in Bangladesh, Tanzania, Guatemala, and Haiti. Vice President Nina Rabinovitch Blecker says their work has impacted millions of lives.

"Over the course of our almost 15 years, we've done so much. We have supported, we believe, over one and a half million women, families, and healthcare providers around the world. We've invested over 40 million to advance maternal health. And we're investing with community based organizations. So these are locally led organizations led by, you know, amazing leaders who are based in the communities that they're serving."

EMC's international endeavors are based in listening to the people and the communities they're serving. Blecker says that it's these communities that are best able to identify their needs and the best solutions. Local partnerships allow healthcare providers to supply individualized and culturally competent care.

"I think one of the things that was most fascinating for me was getting to join a community health worker who was visiting homes in rural Kenya. This was supported by one of our grantee partners there, an organization called Lwala Community Alliance. This, you know, individual has relationships with and is responsible with visiting about a hundred women in her community. So she is sort of their main point of contact and their kind of access to getting some sort of health care. So we went with her into one home of a woman who was expecting and then to another home of a woman who had recently given birth to twins. And it was amazing just to see the way she interacted with these individuals, the way she answered questions. She did basic sort of health checkups, checked on the babies that were the twins that had been born, checked on the mother and in the other home, checked on the woman who was expecting, made sure she had a plan of how she was going to get to the health facility. It's actually extremely impressive thinking about from the perspective of being in the U. S., We don't necessarily have that type of thing happening in our homes here. And so, you know, it's so easy to assume that things are better in the U. S. and worse in other places. And there we were in rural Kenya, and these people were getting, you know, really impressive individualized attention, which I think all women, all people everywhere would really benefit from."

The United States is experiencing a maternal health crisis, and according to the U. S. Government Accountability Office, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world when compared to other high income countries. These numbers rose sharply post pandemic. CDC data indicates that COVID 19 contributed to 25 percent of maternal deaths in 2020 and 2021. Negative health outcomes, including serious complications and death are far more common for women of color. According to a CDCstudy done in 2023, black women are at least three times more likely to die from complications than their white counterparts. EMC's work here involves raising awareness, supporting legislation, and advocating for policy changes that make birth and motherhood a safer and more equitable experience. Currently, EMC is supporting legislation that would extend Medicaid in all states for a year postpartum, and a package of thirteen bills aimed at addressing the needs of black mothers.

"In 2010, when we were formed, people really weren't talking as much about the maternal health crisis. I don't think people were really aware that women were dying in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. I think there's been this real growing awareness of the problem and recognizing that there is a problem right here in the U. S. as well. Um, so that's really great. I think we played a really big
part in helping to sort of shine that spotlight. And so thinking about how we can sort of move from, okay, there's awareness of this crisis. Now what are the solutions? And how can we actually. Make a difference and move the needle for mothers, for birthing people here in this country and around the world."

Advancing legislation can be a slow and challenging process. Blecker hopes that Aspen Ideas Fest will help raise awareness for the cause and public support for their efforts.

"It's just a matter of getting the support we need to at least, you know, here in the U. S. to really make changes. It's just a matter of gathering the political will, the financial resources in order to be able to access those solutions. And accessing care can look different in different parts of this country. We need people to have access to health care and health insurance to be able to, you know, to be able to get to providers when they need them. We need them to be able to find providers who live near them. We have maternity care deserts around
this country, and so there need to be ways to fill those deserts, making sure people have the ability to get to providers when they need them.

Currently, 46 states provide Medicaid access for a year postpartum. Up to date information on legislation impacting pregnant people and mothers is available at the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs website, Every Mother Counts founder Christy Turlington Burns will be speaking at Aspen Ideas Fest on the 21st of June.

Lily Jones is a recent graduate of Mississippi State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a concentration in Broadcasting and Digital Journalism. At WMSV, MSU's college radio station, Jones served as the Public Affairs and Social Media Coordinator. In her spare time Lily likes to go to the gym and watercolor.