Each year, about 700 women die — and close to 60,000 experience near-death — from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes in the U.S.
There is no magic bullet for confronting this crisis and it requires a wide range of expertise and support to address maternal health needs, asserts Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, lead and executive director of Merck for Mothers, the pharmaceutical company’s $500 million global initiative designed to end preventable deaths of women from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Etiebet told NJBIZ local communities play a critical role because they understand the risk factors an expectant mother might face — such as housing and transportation issues — and are able to directly connect and be advocates for mothers and their families.
“Our goal with the Safer Childbirth Cities Initiative is to support such communities and their locally created solutions,” Etiebet said.
The initiative is intended to reduce the number of maternal deaths and life-threatening childbirth events and narrow disparities in maternal health outcomes in the U.S.
Adding to its earlier investments to reduce maternal mortality, Merck for Mothers is committing an additional $10 million to improve maternal health in the U.S.
Merck for Mothers intends to support a wide geographic range of cities through grants ranging from $500,000 to $1 million to develop cross-sector coalitions, implement evidence-informed interventions and stimulate creative solutions to improve health for expectant mothers in their communities.
“We’re hoping that the initiative will mobilize a coalition of organizations and individuals, including maternal health advocates, local leaders and health officials, community-based health providers and more, to bring their expertise and experience and work together to improve maternal health outcomes and reduce disparities,” Etiebet said.
The maternal mortality rate in New Jersey has declined, while the number of pregnancy-related deaths that occur among women who have one or more chronic conditions has increased, Etiebet said.
“Since 2014, we’ve been working with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to support pregnant women in such circumstances,” she said. “For example, the organization is testing a new model to connect pregnant women with chronic conditions to the care and support services they need to enjoy healthy, safe pregnancies and to improve their long-term well-being.”
Etiebet said a partnership with Yale University researchers is designed to assess the impact of community-based organizations they are working with, such as the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.
As part of their work, she said Yale and the community partners created Mother’s Voices, which captures photos and stories from community health workers and mothers.
“In the stories, you understand the realities many of these mothers deal with, from their experiences in the health care system to having a steady home or feeling uninformed or overwhelmed on the road to motherhood,” she said.
Etiebet said you can feel the impact that community health workers have on these mothers, from being their supporter and resource to providing them with the confidence and guidance they need to be their own maternal health advocates.
Merck has long had a history in tackling global health needs, including river blindness, HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer and other diseases, Etiebet said.
“Throughout our efforts, we continue to learn how essential partnerships are in staying ahead of the rapidly changing world of global heath. This includes efforts in maternal mortality, where we work with over 100-plus partners to address the leading contributors to maternal mortality in more than 30 countries,” she said.
For example, in New Jersey, this includes working with local organizations like the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and CDC Foundation, which are helping to build out the state’s capacity to review maternal deaths and develop actionable recommendations; and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, which worked in more than 30 hospitals across the state to ensure health providers know how to diagnose and treat childbirth emergencies, as well as provide education about signs of postpartum complications.
“Ultimately, we know that when a health system succeeds in lowering rates of maternal mortality, the benefits extend far beyond maternal health,” Etiebet said. “Our approach is to focus our energy in areas where the need is great, our resources can contribute distinctively and there are opportunities to apply insights that can scale and result in long-term impact.”