Every Mother Counts

Maternal health in the United States and abroad is the focus of this organization dedicated to ensuring that mothers everywhere have access to high-quality care during pregnancy and delivery.

By Diana Price

In May 2014 the medi­cal journal The Lancet published a study that made headlines; but, unlike many medical stories that make the morning news, this piece did not focus on remarkable advanc­es in cancer research or an innova­tive, lifesaving surgical technique. Instead the study reported sobering statistics about a topic many of us thought had long ago become a con­cern of the past: maternal mortality.

Maternal mortality, it turns out, is a growing concern in the Unit­ed States. The Lancet study, which aimed to “measure levels and track trends in maternal mortality, the key causes contributing to maternal death, and timing of maternal death with respect to delivery,” reported that while many countries have seen considerable decrease in the rates of maternal mortality, the United States is one of eight countries see­ing a rise in those numbers.1

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors maternal mortality rates through its Pregnancy Mortal­ity Surveillance System, “the num­ber of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the United States steadi­ly increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to a high of 17.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2009.”2 While the standardized tracking of maternal mortality rates may be one factor in the increase in reported deaths related to child­birth, the reality is that US women are facing serious health concerns that affect maternal health, includ­ing chronic conditions like hyper­tension, diabetes, and chronic heart disease3 as well as issues surround­ing access to care—all of which can put mothers at serious risk.

Raising awareness about mater­nal mortality and funding efforts in the United States and around the world to ensure that women get the care they need to have safe, healthy pregnancies and deliveries is the mission of Every Mother Counts. Launched as an awareness cam­paign in 2010 by Christy Turlington Burns, the organization became an independent 501(c)(3) in 2012 and is currently working with maternal healthcare providers in the United States and four other countries to improve the conditions and the care of mothers.

Erin Thornton, executive direc­tor of Every Mother Counts, says that the causes of maternal mortal­ity vary greatly across the countries the organization serves. In devel­oping nations, she says, the issue may be access: women often live in remote areas, far from clinics that provide care; and even if they are able to make it to a clinic for pre­natal care or for their delivery, “the provider may not have the training or basic supplies necessary to pro­vide the kind of care they need.”

In the United States, women may not be getting the right kind of care or may have trouble navigating the system and affording the cost; in some cases, Thornton says, they may actually be “deluged with interven­tions that aren’t necessary for most normal healthy mothers, creating a cavalcade effect that ends in un­necessary C-sections, which are re­sponsible in large part for America’s growing maternal mortality rate.”

Every Mother Counts approach­es the broad range of contributing factors and maternal health needs around the globe with the goal of ensuring that no matter a woman’s location or resources, she can get the best-quality care and that her providers have the skills and the equipment they need to ensure her health. In the United States, that has meant partnering with a midwife in central Florida named Jennie Joseph to provide childbirth education and prenatal care for women in the area, regardless of their ability to pay or to navigate insurance issues. The organization also hopes to expand its efforts to New York State, where, Thornton says, maternal health sta­tistics are poor.

In addition to efforts in the United States, Every Mother Counts is cur­rently engaged in programming and funding efforts in Haiti, Indonesia, Malawi, and Uganda. Grants to ma­ternal health organizations in those countries fund a variety of educa­tional programs, basic supplies, and transportation needs to ensure that when a woman is pregnant, not only can she access the care she needs but her providers are adequately trained and have the equipment they need. In Uganda, for instance, grants have funded transport vouchers so that women can get to the nearest clinic; in Malawi solar panels have been funded to provide electricity to power cell phones and other equip­ment; in Haiti, Every Mother Counts grants are funding skilled birth training for healthcare providers.

As the organization moves ahead with fundraising and awareness ef­forts, Thornton says, they are in­spired by the impact of their efforts: “In the first year [of our grant fund­ing], we impacted over 36,000 lives of mothers around the world, and we hope to see those numbers continue to increase this year.” In addition to funding grants that are delivering tangible results in the United States, programs and services in other countries are making a real differ­ence, helping women access care and supporting providers in their efforts.

Ultimately, Thornton says, the work that Every Mother Counts is engaged in has the potential to af­fect many more lives: “Ninety per­cent of maternal deaths are prevent­able if women can get to the care they need and if their care providers are prepared to do their jobs,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure that women everywhere can get to the best-quality care they need and that when they get there, those providers are equipped to help.”

For more information visit everymothercounts.org.


1. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/ar­ticle/PIIS0140-6736(14)60696-6/fulltext

2. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Ma­ternalInfantHealth/PMSS.html

3. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Ma­ternalInfantHealth/PMSS.html

5 Facts about Maternal Health You May Not Know

1. Approximately 287,000 women die each year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. That is one woman every two minutes.

2. For every woman who dies each year in childbirth, 20 to 30 more suffer from lifelong de­bilitating complications.

3. Pregnancy is one of the leading causes of death in women ages 15 to 19 in the de­veloping world. Nearly 70,000 young women die every year because their bodies are not ready for parenthood.

4. More than 200 million women who would like to choose when they get preg­nant do not have access to family planning.

5. The United States ranks fiftieth in maternal mortality even though it spends more on healthcare per capita than any other nation in the world. African-American women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than White women.