By Senator Bill Frist, MD and Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD
Doctor and Senator Bill Frist is both a nationally recognized heart and lung transplant surgeon and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader. He is founder and chair of Hope Through Healing Hands. Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands and lecturer at Vanderbilt University’s Department of Health Policy. She is the former National Faith Outreach Director of the DATA Foundation and the ONE Campaign.
We believe that if we can help keep moms and children healthy worldwide, we can get at the nexus of many sustainable development goals. Moms can go back to work to combat extreme poverty; girls can stay in school to finish secondary school and potentially a university degree; we can promote gender equality, improve maternal and child health, and prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, to name a few outcomes. So how do we do this? How do we get at the heart of uplifting women and girls’ health in developing nations?
First, we begin a dialogue about maternal, newborn, and child health with a special emphasis on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. Hope Through Healing Hands is leading the Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. We are building a coalition of leaders across the U.S. to promote awareness and advocacy for women and children’s health in churches, conferences, universities, and through social media.
As for all global health issues, it will require a bipartisan effort to successfully elevate the important issue of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
Pregnancy & childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls age 15-19 worldwide. Becoming pregnant at age 15-19 creates twice the risk of death to a mother as becoming pregnant at age 20-24, and the infants of these younger mothers are up to 10 times as likely to die before their first birthday. (And the risk is even higher if the mother is younger than 15.) If a young mother can time that first pregnancy in a healthy way by delaying it until she is 20, she substantially lowers the risk of complications and death for her and the life of her child. And, if mothers can simply space pregnancies three years apart, the children are 3 times more likely to reach age 5 than those born less than 2 years apart.
Yet around the world, over 220 million women do not have the access to the resources or information they need to better time and space their pregnancies.
This is a justice issue. We know the data; we have answers. We need to speak up on behalf of those women who simply have no voice.
That is exactly what we have done with The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope. Hope Through Healing Hands, as the compiler, partnered with Zondervan Publishing Company to bring together over 47 different authors to speak to the importance of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, including artists, actors, pastors, policymakers, journalists, academics, and nonprofit leaders. Many are from communities of faith. Politically, these authors range from conservative to progressive, showcasing a spectrum of support for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
Kay Warren, Melinda Gates, Tony Campolo, Amy Grant, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Nettles, and Rep. Kay Granger are just some of the writers of essays for this book. Michael Elliott, President and CEO of ONE, offered an endorsement!
The book is framed by the voices of women in developing nations, including Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, and India who talk about how planning their pregnancies is critical to their own health and futures for their families. The book touches on the interface of women’s health with child marriage, modern day slavery, sex trafficking, orphanhood, economic sustainability, and male involvement as well.
We hope this is the beginning of inspiring new readers to support maternal, newborn, and child health, including healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. Fifteen years ago, people of faith were at the helm of turning the tide of AIDS in Africa. We believe they will take a stand, again, for mothers and children.