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Today I rise in recognition of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Created in 1911 to demand equality, today’s International Women’s Day is a reminder of all of the glass ceilings that have been broken in the past century. But it is also a day to remember how far we have left to go. Nowhere is this more evident than in the maternal mortality rates in some parts of the world. As many as one in eight women die because of childbirth related complications in some parts of Afghanistan. A full third of women in the developing world deliver without a skilled attendant present. And we lose approximately half a million women every year in childbirth, or one woman every minute.
Pregnancy should not be a death sentence, and on this International Women’s Day I recommit to meeting the challenges laid out in the 5th Millennium Development Goal (MDG). The 5th MDG states that the global community is committed to reducing maternal mortality rates by 75 percent by 2015; today we are only a third of the way there, and it will take action from us all in order to succeed. We know how to prevent maternal deaths. Women need a skilled birth attendant present when they deliver. They need access to life-saving and inexpensive medications in case something goes wrong. And they need sanitary conditions to prevent the spread of infection. One organization in my district is committed to making sure that every woman has access to these services when they deliver.
For nearly 40 years and in more than 150 countries, Jhpiego, an international health nonprofit affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, has worked to prevent the needless deaths of women and families. Working with health ministries, community organizations, and USAID, Jhpiego prepares local health care workers with the latest in maternal and newborn health skills, building sustainable local capacity that will stay on the ground long after they leave.
Together with partner organizations, Jhpiego helped develop the national midwifery education program in Afghanistan that has educated and graduated more than 2,000 skilled midwives. When the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, Jhpiego was on the ground to ensure that pregnant women had access to the care they needed. And, Jhpiego is leading the way in finding innovative solutions for the developing world’s most pressing medical problems – like an inexpensive way to diagnose cervical cancer in places that lack electricity and access to lab tests.
I commend the work of Jhpiego and others who are working day and night to end the dangers of childbirth. Childbirth is one of life’s great moments, and together we can ensure that more women survive that day and live to see the 101st anniversary of International Women’s Day.
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