The program, which aims to reduce pregnancy-related deaths, was developed to help mothers in countries such as Zambia and Senegal.
However, given that the rate of deaths during pregnancy or after birth in the US has doubled over the last two decades, the program will now be springing up in 10 states across the United States.
The news is yet another reminder of how the first-world nation continues to lag behind others on key measures of health.
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnancy-related births have risen from 7.2 per 100,000 live births to 17.8 per 100,000. The rate among women of African-American background is more than triple that of white Americans, 35.6 vs. 11.7 deaths per 100,000.
Merck for Mothers is the name of the program run by Merck, an international pharmaceutical company that specialises in maternal health. The US-based company launched a $500 million global program in 2011 focusing on reducing maternal mortality rates in countries like India and Uganda, as well as other poorer nations with limited healthcare.
“As Americans, we simply should not accept that 46 countries have lower rates” of reported maternal mortality, said Ken Frazier, Merck’s Chief Executive, adding that the statistics on maternal health in the US were “appalling” and “something we ought to be ashamed of.”
Maternal mortality includes deaths that occur during pregnancy or within a year after birth from causes related to or aggravated by pregnancy. According to maternal and foetal medicine specialists, the leading causes of maternal death include haemorrhage, hypertension, sepsis, venous thromboembolism and cardiovascular disease.
The rise in prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension – all obesity-related illness – are becoming more and more common in women of reproductive age.
“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 call,” Frazier said.
Merck for Mothers has pledged $6 million to it’s programs across 10 states and three main cities in the US in an attempt to decrease the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. This will include local per-natal focused programs in neighbourhood clinics as well as Safe Start Mobile clinics that go to the homes of high-risk pregnant women.