While maternal mortality rates in many places have shown significant improvement in recent decades, outcomes remain unequal, with marked disparities between communities and demographic groups even within the same geographic area. The United States, for instance, shows wrenching racial disparities: Black women are three to four times as likely to face pregnancy-related death as white women.
As one facet of its deep focus on health around the world, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) has made grants to organizations working to support the health of new and expecting mothers and their families. Grants have focused on access to quality health care, dissemination of trusted information, and connecting mothers with the support they need.
Mothers at three public hospitals in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx will get connected with services to improve their health through a new grant to Health Leads for the organization's New York Maternal Health Initiative. Another new grant to AMREF Health Africa supports access to maternal and child health services in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia, including mentorship to build maternal health care capacity in hospitals. A third supports the Lifeline Humanitarian organization, a long-term partner, in the creation and outfitting of a new operating room to expand the capacity of the maternity ward at the major public maternity hospital in Belgrade, Serbia.
Past grants have supported the creation of a catheterization lab for heart exams and surgery at Le Luxembourg Maternal and Child Care Hospital in Bamako, Mali, improved access to care for mothers and children in the rural areas of the South Wollo Zone in Ethiopia, and stronger community health services in the Lobaye Health District in the Central African Republic.
The availability of skilled birth attendants can save lives, and certain grants have focused specifically on building capacity by enabling the training of midwives. One supported the establishment of a midwifery school in Eastern Equatoria in South Sudan and another the training of community midwives in several countries across Africa.
Reliable information is key in health outcomes, particularly in light of the uncertainty created by COVID-19, and SNF has supported both the discovery and distribution of information for maternal health. A recent grant to the Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children’s Hospital supported the creation of a biobank to help improve understanding of COVID-19 in children and pregnant women. And another to mothers2mothers saw peer mentors disseminate trusted health information to mothers in 10 countries across Africa, including to help women living with HIV continue to pursue treatment in spite of the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The social element that’s central to the mother2mothers model reflects that determinants of maternal health and wellbeing go far beyond medical care. The Lullaby Project from Carnegie Hall pairs teaching musicians with recent or expecting parents in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, refugee camps, foster care, health care contexts, and elsewhere around the world to write original lullabies for their children.
Maternal health is a crucial element of health in every community, and through access to quality care, the availability of skilled professionals, and the spread of reliable information, we can help mothers and communities thrive.