Women’s and Maternal Health, Once Neglected Among Donors, Now a Millennium Development Goal

Carnegie Corporation grantmaking identifies problems, defines solutions.  A series of now well-established, affordable and universally accepted health care interventions, developed with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, have contributed to making pregnancy and childbirth safer for women and newborns in many parts of the world.  Research supported in the 1980s and 90s under the Corporation’s Africa grantmaking helped to firmly establish maternal mortality as a human rights issue.

Read Preventing Maternal Mortality a Carnegie Results publication.

Preventing Maternal Mortality, published by Carnegie Corporation, traces the arc of the foundation’s investments in and contributions to an issue that at one point was not high on the international development agenda.  Today, interventions developed with Carnegie Corporation support are critical components in the global effort to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for reducing mortality in children under five years old by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015.

The current issue of Carnegie Results, a quarterly publication that examines the effects of Corporation grantmaking, details the long-term impact of a cluster of more than 90 grants awarded between 1988 and 1993 under the direction of Adetokunbo O. Lucas, M.D., a Nigerian internist and specialist in tropical medicine and parasitical diseases who was tapped to chair the aspect of the foundation’s international grantmaking that was then known as the Strengthening Human Resources in Developing Countries program.

“There were a half-million deaths a year, one woman every minute—mostly in developing countries,” Dr. Lucas stated in a recent interview. “Many people in these countries assumed it was normal.” 

The lack of global attention was further highlighted in a 1985 landmark paper “Maternal Mortality—A Neglected Tragedy: Where is the M in MCH (maternal and child health)?”  For Dr. Lucas, the paper highlighted “the massive death rate associated with pregnancy and delivery in developing countries, and the feeble, ineffectual response through the traditional, maternal and child health programs.”

Investments during the 1980s and 90s formed the basis for the first sustained effort to advocate for policy changes affecting women’s health and led the way in identifying critical reforms needed to strengthen health systems in developing countries in order to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, including training more than 800 nurses, midwives and university medical students to become master trainers capable of training others.

Carnegie Corporation grants contributed to the creation of a model for combating the brain drain of physicians from African countries to the West, and established viable blood banks on a continent where blood is much more likely to be used by a mother in childbirth, or children with malaria-related anemia than in Western countries were its primary use is for trauma.

By identifying socio-cultural factors that contribute to maternal mortality, including women’s status in communities; discrimination; accessibility factors such as transportation and geographical and social distance; corruption and bribes; and costs and health service factors; the results of the Corporation’s investments continue to help rural women demand their social, political and economic empowerment—their human rights.

About Carnegie Corporation of New York
Carnegie Corporation of New York is a philanthropic foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to do “real and permanent good in this world.”