“Today, Merck commits itself to a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth,” announced Kenneth C. Frazier, President and CEO of Merck, last fall at the Every Woman Every Child High-Level event.
“We are launching with a 10-year, half-billion-dollar initiative to speed life-saving solutions to women and are making the fight against maternal mortality part of our mission. The name of our new initiative is Merck for Mothers.”
The global pharmaceutical company makes this pledge in the presence of an existing reality: one woman dies every minute while trying to give life. Because of massive bleeding, no access to a needed c-section, seizures, infection, and unsafe abortion, maternal mortality remains a lingering problem. In fact, one of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals specifically targets reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75% between 1990 and 2015.
Merck for Mothers will focus on new product innovation, accelerating access to proven solutions to issues including massive bleeding, and improving public awareness, policy efforts, and private sector engagement for maternal mortality. Currently, global health companies do not reach 80% of the world’s population.
“Companies are often treated with suspicion when they enter the realm of global development, but they are playing a central role in improving the lives of women and children. Every Woman Every Child has shown what can be achieved through close cooperation among the UN, governments, and the private sector,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“A great deal has been achieved in the last year, but progress must be accelerated if we are to achieve our goals of saving 16 million lives by 2015. I am delighted that despite difficult economic times, many governments, companies, and civil society leaders are making significant commitments to Every Woman Every Child. These are smart decisions – visionary leaders recognize the value of investing in the health of women and children.”
Experts in the nonprofit sector believe that transparency will be important as Merck for Mothers makes funding commitments and evaluates outcome.
“It’s important not to gloss over how big this problem is, but fundamentally, we want to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. That’s why we got started down this path,” Julie Gerberding, president of Merck’s vaccines division, told the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Founded in 2009 by Meg Wirth, co-author of the UN Millennium Project’s final report on child and maternal health, Maternova is an online social enterprise that is both a disseminator of innovations that save lives in childbirth and a marketplace for lifesaving tools.
They carry products that could be used in remote, resource-poor areas, such as full obstetric kits, stick-on reusable thermometers, and infant warming blankets. These are distributed through organizations and governments and sold to groups in the U.S. and Canada that work overseas. To provide doctors, nurses, and midwives with access to information and new technologies, they have a comprehensive portal to track innovations.
Maternova is also keeping an eye on the prize. By 2015, they hope to reach 6% of global births.
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