April 28: Safe Motherhood, Worldwide

Dr. Allan Rosenfield, an international family planning expert who helped abate the epidemic of mother-to-baby transmission of AIDS over the course of forty years of work, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on this date in 1933. A graduate of the medical school of Columbia University (where he spent much of his career as dean of the Mailman School of Public Heath), Rosenfield first led a birth control and women’s health effort in Thailand, using trained midwives to deliver maternal health care and birth control in a land that lacked a solid corps of doctors; his work brought the country’s birth rate down from 3.3 percent to 0.8 percent in thirty years.With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rosenfield created more than 85 “safe motherhood” programs worldwide, and in 2000, at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, he launched the MTCT-Plus Initiative, which has brought comprehensive health care and helped prevent mother-to-child transmission of AIDS within hundreds of thousands of families worldwide. He was national chairman of Planned Parenthood in 1985 and 1986, as well as of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Dr. Rosenfield died of ALS in 2008 at age 75.

“We tend to think of human rights as an argument to prevent governments from torturing citizens. But Allan argued passionately that maternal mortality was a human rights issue, and that governments had to be held accountable when they allowed women to die in vast numbers in childbirth, simply because they were poor, rural and female.” —Nicholas Kristof

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