Delivering healthcare to mothers' cell phones

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave these remarks on maternal health on Tuesday.

Sunday is Mother’s Day, in case any of you need reminding. And many of us will find ways to celebrate and thank our mothers, and we’ll be grateful for all of the blessings that we’ve been given. But let’s not forget that becoming a mother can be a dangerous and life threatening undertaking. Every year, nearly 360,000 women worldwide don’t survive childbirth. Four million babies die during childbirth or within a few weeks. Most of these deaths can be prevented. 

And there are some encouraging trends. Recent data confirms that the global maternal mortality ratio has declined 34 percent between 1990 and 2008. In Bangladesh, for example, maternal mortality has gone down by 40 percent. In Nepal, where it was the first time, many years ago, that I saw a birthing kit, which some of you know is one of UNICEF’s great contributions, and in Nepal it’s dropped 50 percent. 

So our investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health have contributed to a decline of at least 30 percent in maternal deaths in 19 countries. And I want to underscore that because all too often people wonder, well, what happens with this money that you spend and that the Congress appropriates to be spent? Well, this is one example of where we can really trace U.S. Government efforts that have made a difference in the lives of women, babies, and children. 

So it’s clear that with the right tools, the right partnerships, and the right commitment, we can achieve real results. It’s not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do as well. Improving the health and status of women and girls acts as a positive multiplier because when women succeed, they lift themselves, they lift their families and their communities along with them. 

According to a recent analysis published in The Lancet, half the reduction in child mortality over the past 40 years can be directly attributed to better education for women. If a woman knows better how to care for her child, she will demand more and receive more, enabling her to do so.

So that’s why we’ve put women and children at the heart of our development efforts, including our Global Health Initiative. Through the Global Health Initiative, we’ve set very ambitious new targets for improvement in maternal and child health and access to family planning. 

We want our efforts to be broad-based, self-sustaining, and country-led. So we’re working to build health systems that give women and children access to an integrated package of essential health services, from prenatal care and skilled birth attendants to reproductive healthcare, immunization services, and the prevention for mother-to-child HIV transmission. 

We’re funding scientists to identify what works to improve women and children’s health and to spread those practices. We’re also working together to remove barriers, and there are still so many barriers. There are economic barriers, cultural barriers, social and even legal barriers that keep women from getting access to healthcare. And we’re creating these innovative, cross-cutting solutions that depend upon better coordination on the ground. 

We’ve recently launched an initiative to spur innovation, prevention, and treatment for pregnant women and newborns, as well as an alliance to increase access to family planning and reduce maternal and neonatal deaths in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Last year, we started the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, something that I have to confess I wasn’t as focused on until I really began paying attention because cooking a meal for your family is something that people do every single day, mostly women. But the toxic smoke caused by open fires or unventilated cookstoves kills nearly 2 million women and young children every year. So I think we have a lot that we know needs to be done and a lot of opportunities to do it better. 

Today, I am pleased to announce another tool in our arsenal, another roster of impressive partners, to create the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or MAMA. I love acronyms when they work. Together with Johnson & Johnson and with the help of the UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter, we will harness the power of mobile technology to deliver vital health information to mothers across the globe. 

Women in developing countries, some of the women most at risk for pregnancy-related problems, will be able to use their cell phones to get health information via text messages or voicemails, and the information can even be customized for the stage of pregnancy or the age of their children. 

Over the next three years, this $10 million partnership will be piloted in three countries –Bangladesh, South Africa, and India – and if it is successful, as we expect it to be, we will expand it. We have the ability, therefore, to help more women live healthy lives and more babies to get off to a healthy start; and that’s why we have to keep asking ourselves what works and let’s take it to scale, and if it doesn’t work, let’s quit doing it and find something more innovative and effective. 

Thanks to the attention of the UN Secretary General and other leaders, we’re finally giving this issue the attention it deserves. And there are so many of you in this room, as I look around, who have been leading voices. You’ve been advocates, policy makers, service providers, leaders in every sector. 

And I thank you, because it’s going to take all of us. This has to be a team effort, because there is so much to be done and so many positive results that we can achieve together.

So let me now have the great pleasure of welcoming to the podium the CEO of Johnson & Johnson – and I thank him and all of the representatives of J&J for being part of this very exciting program – Bill Weldon.