The death of a mother in pregnancy or childbirth is not an isolated tragic event, but one that also can devastate the health and economic wellbeing of her family. A panel discussion held October 7, 2014 at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) explored new findings documenting these repercussions in five African countries where maternal death rates are high.
The event was sponsored by HSPH’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and the International Center for Research on Women. HSPH’s Ana Langer, professor of the practice of public health and director of the Women and Health Initiative, moderated the panel, which included Alicia Yamin, lecturer on global health and policy director of the FXB Center.
Yamin led one of the studies discussed at the event, which looked at the effects of maternal death on children and families in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi. The researchers found stark differences between the health of children whose mothers did and did not survive. Children were often abandoned by their fathers, undernourished, and forced to drop out of school and take on difficult household and farm tasks. The second study, conducted in Kenya, found that newborns of mothers who die in childbirth are far less likely to survive.
The panelists expressed hope that the new findings will help spur policymakers to take action to address these largely preventable deaths, and to raise women’s health to the center of the global health and development agenda.