Christy Turlington Burns hopeful for change in U.S. maternal health

Christy Turlington Burns hopeful for change in U.S. maternal health
TORONTO — Former supermodel Christy Turlington
Burns says statistics on maternal mortality in the U.S. are
"quite shocking," but she's hopeful new legislation will
improve the situation.
Turlington Burns has become an advocate for better
global maternal health care in recent years, after a
complication with the delivery of her first child prompted
her to explore the cause and make the documentary "No
Woman, No Cry".
The film follows at-risk pregnant women in several parts of
the world, including the U.S., where — according to the
documentary — two women die each day from a
pregnancy-related complication, and one in five women of
reproductive age has no health insurance.
Turlington Burns, who's also spearheading the Every Mother Counts campaign, says she's hopeful the
Maternal Health Accountability Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month by Rep.
John Conyers of Michigan will improve the situation.
"That has the potential to, I think, make a big difference," she said Friday in an interview before the
Canadian public premiere of the doc, which marks her directorial debut, at Bell Lightbox.
"In the United States, it's such an enormous country, as is Canada, and it's very hard to collect data and
consolidate data so that people really understand how deaths are happening and why they're happening
and really understand what's happening, state-by-state review boards and whatnot. So it has the promise
to do that," she said.
"I think once we have more of a sense of what's happening across the country, we'll have a better chance
at making some solutions."
Shot over a period of two years starting in 2008, "No Woman, No Cry" is visually stunning as it travels to
several parts of the world, including Tanzania, where a pregnant woman in a remote tribe must walk eight
kilometres to get to the nearest clinic.
Cameras also travelled to Guatemala, the U.S., and a slum in Bangladesh, where stigma surrounding
hospital deliveries prevents many women from seeking professional maternal care.
"World-wide, over half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year, and 90 per cent of
those deaths are preventable," says the film.
Turlington Burns says the impetus for the doc — which will air on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network in
Canada on May 22 — was the postpartum hemorrhage she experienced right after the birth of her first child
in October 2003.
"The complication that I endured was the leading cause and is the leading cause of maternal death
worldwide, and learning that information made me want to know more about what were the barriers to care,
why were women dying still in pregnancy in 2010," said the 42-year-old California native, who is married to
actor Ed Burns and gave birth to her second child in 2006.
"I was confused and I was outraged by the information that I learned, and I wanted to know more."
Turlington Burns is working on her Master's degree on public health at Columbia University. She was
brought into Toronto by Grand Challenges Canada, a new, federally-funded, not-for-profit global health
organization that addresses women and children's health issues in the developing world. It has also
partnered with a few other groups, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on an initiative called
Saving Lives at Birth, which is focused on finding ways to save lives in the 72-hour window after a woman
has given birth.
Dr. Peter Singer, the CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, says he was "flabbergasted" when he first learned
that most maternal deaths happen in just a very narrow window after delivery.
"The other thing that I think is really shocking is that the chance of a woman dying in pregnancy and
childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa is more than 100 times greater than the chance of a woman dying of
pregnancy and childbirth in Canada," he said.
"So that's a huge inequity that really needs to be addressed and the saddest thing is that most of those
deaths are preventable."
Turlington Burns says the group's focus on the risks women face right after birth touched her because that's
the timeframe in which her life was at risk.
"Had I gone home and the hemorrhage not presented itself until I was home and maybe didn't understand
what was happening, I may not have sought care as timely as I should have, which would've been the
critical piece in saving my life," she said.
"And often the cases that do result in the death in even North America are those that the woman has gone
home and she doesn't recognize the signs or the symptoms."
And just how does Canada shape up against the U.S. when it comes to maternal mortality?
"We almost have half the rate as in the U.S. That means we're almost twice as good," said Singer.
"So, for example, our maternal mortality ratio is 12 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, and the
U.S. is 24 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, based on UN statistics."
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