Incoming Dean Michael Lu calls on Congress to eradicate maternal mortality

June 10, 2019

Congressman John Lewis with incoming Dean Michael Lu

In May Berkeley Public Health’s incoming dean Michael Lu testified before the House Committee on Ways and Means. In a three-hour testimony, Lu stated that too many women die from childbirth in the United States. He argued that with the right political will, the country can cut maternal mortality in half by 2025, and eradicate it altogether by 2050.

“In 21st-century America, no woman should ever die from pregnancy and childbirth,” said Lu.

As Lu explained in his testimony, 700 women die from pregnancy-related causes every year in the United States, while 50,000 women suffer severe complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last two decades, maternal mortality has doubled in the United States, with African-American women three times as likely to die of childbirth complications than white women.

The media has made the problem seem insurmountable, Lu told the Committee. But, he said, there is much that can and should be done.

Lu laid out his plan to achieve zero maternal deaths by 2050 in three parts: First, the medical community must learn from every maternal death by strengthening public health surveillance through state maternal mortality review committees. Next, reducing maternal deaths requires assuring the quality and safety of maternity care for all women by developing quality improvement toolkits.

Lu stated that these steps would lead to cutting maternal deaths by half. The third part of Lu’s plan focused on improving women’s health not only during pregnancy but throughout their life course.

“Improving women’s health will require addressing social determinants and fighting social injustices of which our nation’s high maternal mortality rates and gaps are symptomatic,” said Lu, “and assuring the conditions in which all girls, women and families can be healthy across their life course.”

Lu’s testimony represents his career-long commitment to working with political leaders to address women’s health issues—using his background in research and practice to urge these leaders to align resources with strategy and pay attention to the social determinants of health.

The hearing before the House Committee on Ways and Means, titled “Overcoming Racial Disparities and Social Determinants in the Maternal Mortality Crisis,” took place on May 16. Click here to read Lu’s full written testimony and visit the Committee website to read testimonies from other witnesses at the hearing.