Why Katherine Schwarzenegger Thinks Ending Maternal Mortality Is So Important in the US
By Lorna Soonhee Umphrey| August 11, 2016 |
Katherine Schwarzenegger and Dr. Priya Agrawal chat with us about the work Merck for Mothers is doing to prevent maternal mortality across the world.
In the United States, more than 60,000 women each year—or one every ten minutes—die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Known as maternal mortality, the epidemic is on the rise in the US, despite the fact that this issue is declining worldwide. Women’s health advocate and lifestyle blogger Katherine Schwarzenegger is doing her part to spread the word. Working in partnership with Merck for Mothers—a 10-year, $500 million global initiative to raise awareness and the improve the health of mothers—Schwarzenegger recently spoke on a panel for BlogHer along with the organization's Executive Director Dr. Priya Agrawal.
Schwarzenegger first learned of maternal mortality at the age of 17, after a meeting her mother Maria Shriver had with Sarah Brown, wife of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “I left that meeting and did a lot of research to figure out what it was,” she explains. “As a woman, I felt like it was something that I should know about and was embarrassed that I didn’t.” She would go on to visit Africa and Ghana, getting a first-hand account in maternity wards on the delivery experience and the care of mothers after giving birth.
Now, Schwarzenegger is turning to social media to inform millennials about the growing crisis, as she’s found that one of the biggest challenges in getting the word out is that a lot of people have never heard of this issue. “What we’re doing with Merck for Mothers is using the hashtag #endmaternalmortality to be able to spread awareness,” she says. Working in tandem with Dr. Agrawal to spread the word has its challenges in terms of informing women in the US about this matter. Schwarzenegger explains, “The fact that it’s happening so much here in America, that it’s so preventable, is also very frustrating.”
Maternal mortality is most commonly linked to areas in the world such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where awareness is inherent, yet the lack of substantial and responsive maternal healthcare is less available. “The phrase ‘I am pregnant’ in Chad literally translates into ‘I have one foot in the grave,’” says Dr. Agrawal. Merck for Mothers’ goal is to implement full system programs in those countries to help improve healthcare for women and expecting mothers. For the US, the first steps for prevention are communication. “I would say the biggest call-to action for the American programs is to really start talking about it,” says Dr. Agrawal. “Then senators and others will start thinking, my constituents care about this. What can I do in my state to make [health]care safer?”
Schwarzenegger and Agrawal hope this initiative ensures a national voice for the cause. “If you’re wanting to have kids in the future, or if your friends want to have kids, it’s something to watch out for and be informed about,” says Schwarzenegger.