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2018 Maternal Mortality Summit – Summit Welcome

HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D.
June 19, 2018

Good morning. It is a pleasure to welcome you to Rockville for the HRSA Maternal Mortality Summit.

I want to extend a special welcome to the delegates from Brazil, Canada, Finland, India, Rwanda, and the United Kingdom. Thank you for traveling a long distance to be here with us and share your insight.

This Summit is an incredible opportunity to learn from one another and renew our commitments to address maternal mortality and morbidity and improve women's health overall. Maternal mortality and morbidity is a serious concern both here in the United States and across the globe.

The rate of maternal mortality in the United States seems to be rising the past decade. And for every maternal death, there are nearly one hundred pregnant women that suffer from a traumatic event or near death experience. It is estimated that maternal morbidity affects 50,000 women in the U.S. annually.

We can do more to prevent loss of life and illness. Data shows us that nearly 60% of all pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Addressing the U.S. maternal mortality rate is a priority for HRSA.

HRSA's mission is to increase access to quality health care services for people who are medically underserved or geographically isolated. We do this by providing grants and cooperative agreements to more than 3,000 awardees, including community and faith-based organizations, colleges and universities, hospitals, state, local, and tribal governments. Every year, our programs serve tens of millions of people, including pregnant women, mothers and their families, people living with HIV/AIDS, rural Americans, and those otherwise unable to access quality health care.

Specifically, in 2016, HRSA-supported maternal and child health programs provided services to nearly 54 million mothers and children in the U.S., including two-thirds of all pregnant women and half of all infants and children.

HRSA's strategic priorities to address maternal mortality include:

  1. improving women's health before, during, and beyond pregnancy and across their life span;
  2. improving the quality and safety of maternal care; and
  3. improving systems of maternal care, including both clinical and public health systems.

HRSA's Maternal and Child Health Title V Block Grant Program plays a vital role in advancing the health and well-being of our nation's mothers, children and families by focusing on data-driven programs and implementing strategies that lead to improved outcomes.

The Healthy Start program supports 100 communities in 37 states and the District of Columbia to improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce perinatal disparities in women and infants. Research shows that interventions focused solely on pregnancy are not enough to improve maternal or infant mortality rates. Therefore, we recognize the need to take a more holistic approach that focuses on women’s health before, during and between pregnancies.

The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program provides pregnant women and families with help from health, social service, and child development professionals. Program goals include improving maternal health, and home visits may support preventive health and prenatal practices for pregnant women and mothers.

HRSA also supports the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health and Safety Initiative. The program is currently working with 13 states and more than 660 hospitals to implement maternal safety bundles to improve maternal health outcomes, and to increase the quality and safety of maternity care services.

HRSA's Community Health Center Program plays an essential role in increasing access to care, and raising the standard of quality care by serving patients through a comprehensive, patient-centered care model. Today, HRSA supports a nationwide network of more than 1,400 health centers, operating more than 11,000 health care delivery sites. Nearly 27 million people – 1 in 12 people nationwide – rely on community health centers for care.

HRSA's workforce programs provide training, scholarships and loan repayment to practitioners willing to work in underserved areas, both urban and rural, so that everyone – mothers and children included – can access high quality health care services.

HRSA-supported programs all work toward the goal of improving health care access and services and as you can see, key among them is working to improve maternal health outcomes across the U.S.

And to achieve these better outcomes, it is important to also look around the world for what is working and what issues other nations may be facing. In the next three days, we will do just that.

Leading maternal health experts from across the U.S. and other countries all over the globe are here to provide us with a multifaceted perspective and share their knowledge, innovations, and solutions to help decrease the rates of maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity. They offer a range of experiences whose approaches may potentially be replicable, scalable or applied to national contexts at the regional or even global level.

We will hear from a World Health Organization representative about the ways in which WHO contributes to the reduction in maternal mortality by providing evidence-based clinical and programmatic guidance, standards, and technical support to countries globally.

Our distinguished delegates from six countries and experts from the U.S. bring us evidence based strategies and effective programs for improving maternal health and well-being. To highlight a few successes and efforts:

  • Brazil has instituted national policies and strategies to address improving maternal health outcomes.
  • Canada implemented a perinatal surveillance system to inform health care and policy decisions at the provincial and national level.
  • Finland developed a maternity and child health clinic system that provides advice and support for new mothers and families reaching 99.7 percent of all expecting mothers.
  • India scaled up emergency referral systems, maternal death audits, and improved health services at all levels to address maternal mortality and was recently recognized for their efforts in reducing the country's rate of maternal mortality.
  • Rwanda has strengthened health systems and research to promote increasing health coverage and focused attention on the deployment and retention of health care staff, financial and geographical access to services by under-served and vulnerable populations, and used data systems to monitor equity.
  • The United Kingdom has a long-standing comprehensive national program of surveillance and Confidential Enquiries into maternal deaths that has been implemented since 1952.
  • Last but not least, we will hear from U.S. experts about local or regional effective and promising models.

While we have made considerable progress in reducing risk for maternal death, there are still many challenges to be address and much more to be done.

We have set out an ambitious agenda, but I know everyone in this room is up to the task. I am confident that we will identify key recommendations for all our countries' policy-makers, elected officials and health care professionals to consider. In the end, our goal is to prevent families, and the larger world community, from experiencing the pain of maternal loss and severe maternal events no matter where they are and who they are.

This is the place to share your ideas, best practices and medical expertise. This is the place where we start to, collectively, improve maternal health and outcomes.

I look forward to engaging with all of you and hope you find your time here to be productive and fruitful for all the people we serve, across this great nation and around the world. Thank you.

I now have the distinct honor and high privilege of introducing Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, the 20th Surgeon General of the United States.

Dr. Adams is a board certified anesthesiologist and was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence in September 2017.

The Surgeon General is a native of Maryland – so he is right at home here in Rockville.

Prior to becoming the Surgeon General, Dr. Adams served as the State Health Commissioner in Indiana from 2014 to 2017.

The Surgeon General's motto is, "better health through better partnerships," which I think we can all agree is an excellent way of encapsulating exactly what we plan to do here in the next three days.

So please join me in welcoming the Surgeon General of the United States, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams.

Date Last Reviewed:  June 2018