By Carly Taylor

For The Diamondback

A sociology professor at Queens College City University of New York discussed barriers that have made it difficult to reduce maternal mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

About 20 University of Maryland graduate students and professors attended Holly Reed’s presentation Monday in Morrill Hall as part of the Maryland Population Research Center’s fall seminar series. More than half of the world’s maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. One reason maternal mortality rates in this region remain high is because many women don’t have access to contraceptives, Reed said.

She added that there might be similar concerns growing in this country. President-elect Donald Trump said he plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which ensures women access to free birth control, and appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices.

“We might look to some of the recent political changes in this country with a bit of concern,” Reed said. “If they start to take away access to reproductive health services, it can really have an impact on maternal mortality later on.”

University of Maryland professor Marian MacDorman attended Reed’s lecture, and agreed the trend does not only apply to developing countries. MacDorman was the lead author of a study published in September that showed the maternal mortality rate increased 27 percent for 48 states and Washington, D.C., from 2000 to 2014.

This increase in the United States has been linked to financial cuts in women’s health services, closing of clinics and cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood, MacDorman said.

“Maternal mortality in the U.S. does not receive the kind of attention that it should receive internationally,” MacDorman said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank funds Safe Motherhood programs that aim to improve the health of women and newborns. Reed said that while these investments reduce maternal mortality, the kinds of loans they provide impose policies — such as privatization of health services and user fees — that “nullify” the progress of these programs.

“That actually can counteract the effects of the Safe Motherhood program,” Reed said.

Reed said the effect of these “structural adjustment loans” sometimes result in the closing of facilities, leaving women with fewer options for care.

Reed proposed replacing structural adjustment loans with grants, which would provide money countries do not need to pay back and remove the strings attached to loans limiting health care access for women.

“It happens to be very nice timing to discuss these questions,” said Sangeetha Madhavan, the center’s associate director.