Friday, July 13, 2012

Think globally, act locally

Like many of my maternal and child health colleagues, I’m really enjoying the increase in movement and activity in this field.  Not a week goes by that I don’t hear about the importance of improving the health of women before pregnancy.  Just recently, I attended a webinar on the first ever Global Report Card on Prematurity. The March of Dimes, in partnership with organizations across the world, collaborated to issue a comprehensive  report on the epidemic of preterm birth: how it impacts infant mortality and what we can do about it. Having spent the last four years of my professional career with the March of Dimes, I know that tackling the issue of prematurity within our state or the United States is not an easy one.  Once we start thinking about it as a global issue, it almost seems a bit overwhelming.  If we can’t prevent 500,000 preterm births in the US, what makes us think we can eliminate 15 million across the world?

However, this way of thinking will not save lives. Preterm birth is a huge problem for babies everywhere.  A huge problem means that this is not an uncommon issue. Common and shared problems can ultimately lead to shared solutions. A pregnant mom in Kentucky, Egypt or Vietnam is still a pregnant mom. And before she became a pregnant mom she was, and still is, a woman. A woman who most likely has friends and family who love and support her, women who she turns to for help and guidance.
Take a second and think about who those women are in your life. Do you talk with them about the importance of consistent contraceptive use, folic acid, consumption, breastfeeding or safe sleeping? I would bet many of us don’t. If your days are anything like mine, we spend them immersed in educating the masses on a variety of maternal and child health issues. We coordinate and evaluate our programs designed to improve the birth outcomes for women we’ve never met. For many of us, it’s our life’s work. But at 5pm (or some nights it’s much later) that life ends and we go home to our other lives.  Lives filled with women that we do know and women who are pregnant or one day hope to become pregnant.
Do we practice what we preach? Yes, we know women of child bearing age need to be consuming folic acid to prevent birth defects.  But do we? Do we encourage our girlfriends to pop a multivitamin every morning? Yes, we know safe sleep practices can prevent infant mortality. But are we urging our new mommy friends to swaddle and remove bumper pad in the crib? Yes, we know the benefits of breastfeeding but are we supporting new moms in their quest to do so?
While we are off trying to save the world every day, have we neglected ourselves and the women we know and love? Perhaps it’s time to take a look around and see how we can advocate, educate and encourage in our own little worlds.  There’s no doubt: the maternal and child health future is bright. And yes, we need to think globally. But let’s not forget healthy babies start with acting locally.