Improving Maternal Health, in D.C. and Around the World

By Christine Cupaiuolo — May 6, 2009

The DC Developing Families Center in Washington, D.C., is notable for its comprehensive approach to women’s health. Three facilities co-exist under one roof: the Family and Birth Center, a medical center where women can obtain physical exams, family planning services and give birth in a free-standing birth room; the Healthy Babies Project, which offers parenting and life skills as well as a food pantry; and an early childhood development center, with classrooms for children age 6 months to 2 years.

What makes it truly remarkable is that this model is not in every community.

Consider its success: “Studies show that compared to other African Americans in D.C., clients at the Developing Families Center have one third the rate of preterm birth (7 percent versus 24 percent) and half the rate of low birth weight and C-section (6 percent versus 14 percent and 13 percent versus 32 percent). Compared to black mothers nationwide, they are 30 percent more likely to try breastfeeding,” writes Molly M. Ginty in Women’s eNews.

Ruth Watson Lubic, a nurse-midwife who won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1993, opened the Developing Families Center to meet the needs of women and their families living in D.C.’s Ward 5. (Read more about Lubic, now 82, at OBOB.)

“She hoped to create a one-stop center where families could get all the medical care they needed — and to get it in a revolutionary way: at one central site so access was not a problem; in a loving, supportive environment devoid of discrimination; and coupled with the social services they needed such as counseling and food provision,” writes Ginty.

“Our facility is the only model of its kind,” said Dr. Linda Randolph, president and CEO of the Developing Families Center. “Other health entities may have social services, but they are usually more medically-oriented. We seek not just to treat health problems, but to solve them by addressing their root cause.”

Randolph, formerly the director of New York State’s Office of Public Health, will be honored as one of Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Thursday in New York City. All the honorees are pretty amazing.

international_day_of_midwifePlus: I’m several hours late in noting that May 5 is International Day of the Midwife. This year’s theme is “The World Needs Midwives Now More Than Ever.”

That’s not hyperbole. Midwives are essential if we ever want to reach United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5 — to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent and to achieve universal access to reproductive health services by 2015. We’re quite far behind.

Sarah Brown writes at Huffington Post about the need to train health workers, including midwives, to improve maternal and newborn health. Learn more at Mothers Day Everyday, a campaign calling for greater U.S. leadership to strengthen health systems and increase skilled health workers in communities where pregnant women die for lack of care.

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