News / Health

Merck Brings Maternity Program from Poor Nations to US as Deaths Rise

Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey, March 9, 2009.Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey, March 9, 2009.
Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey, March 9, 2009.
Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey, March 9, 2009.
Merck & Co. on Tuesday said it is expanding its “Merck for Mothers” program, which aims to reduce pregnancy-related deaths from impoverished countries such as Senegal and Zambia, to the United States — a stark reminder of how far the country lags other wealthy nations on key measures of health.
“As Americans, we simply should not accept that 46 countries have lower rates” of reported maternal mortality, said Merck Chief Executive Ken Frazier. The fact that U.S. pregnancy-related deaths have nearly doubled since 1990 is “appalling” and “something we ought to be ashamed of,” he said.
“Given how sophisticated medical care is in this country, I think most Americans would be astonished” that almost 900 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth and 50,000 have close calls, Frazier said.
The U.S. drugmaker launched the $500 million global program in 2011 to reduce pregnancy-related deaths, focusing on India, Uganda and other poor countries with only rudimentary healthcare systems.
However, pregnancy-related deaths in the United States have risen from 7.2 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.8 per 100,000 in 2009 (the latest year with reliable data), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate among African-American women is more than triple that of white women: 35.6 versus 11.7 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The deaths include any that occur while a woman is pregnant or within a year after she gives birth, from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy.
The leading maternal killers include cardiovascular disease, venous thromboembolism, hemorrhage, hypertension and sepsis, said Dr. Mary D'Alton of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, a specialist in high-risk maternal and fetal medicine.
According to a study presented on Sunday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in California. “Women who give birth are usually young and in good health,” said Dr. Afshan Hameed of the University of California, Irvine, who led the research. “So heart disease shouldn't be the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths, but it is.”
The reasons for the rise in maternal mortality are unclear. Better reporting is part of it: some states only recently added a “pregnancy” check box to death certificates, said Dr. Edward McCabe, medical director of the March of Dimes.
“We're getting better data, yes, but what these data are telling us is that we have an unacceptably high rate of pregnancy-related mortality.”
Another likely reason for the increase is the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. Diabetes, chronic heart disease and hypertension — which can occur as a result of obesity — have become more common in women of reproductive age. And for unexplained reasons, the 2009 H1N1 [swine flu] pandemic killed many pregnant women in the United States: although pregnant women account for about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 5 percent of the deaths, the CDC reported.
“Merck for Mothers” will provide $6 million to U.S. programs in 10 states and three cities aimed at decreasing the number of women who die as a result of being pregnant or giving birth. Local programs include Baltimore Healthy Start, which works with neighborhood clinics to improve prenatal and primary care for pregnant women who have high-blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic conditions, and the Maternity Care Coalition in Philadelphia, whose “Safe Start Mobile” sends health advocates into the homes of high-risk pregnant women.
The program will also work through the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop standardized protocols for treating the leading causes of maternal death, said Columbia's D'Alton. Currently, there is significant variation in how obstetricians and hospitals treat potentially-fatal obstetric emergencies such as postpartum hemorrhaging and embolisms.
“There are no national guidelines about what to do in the event of a maternal emergency,” D'Alton said. “Variability is the enemy of safety.”
Merck is collaborating with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to assess whether its maternity programs in Uganda, Zambia and other countries are making a difference, and will publish data on what works and what doesn't.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs