This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Doctors, filmmakers share sad stories of mothers worldwide

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Somewhere on the planet, there's a woman facing death in the midst of giving life.
 
Roughly 1,000 women die each day due to pregnancy-related causes. For every woman who dies, there are 20 to 30 more who will suffer from lifelong disabilities caused by childbirth.
 
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Former supermodel Christy Turlington Burns.
Less than a week before Mother’s Day, former supermodel Christy Turlington Burns was at UCLA to discuss these issues and to share her gripping directorial debut, "No Woman, No Cry," which chronicles the stories of at-risk pregnant women from four parts of the world — a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a Bangladesh slum, a post-abortion-care ward in Guatemala and a prenatal clinic in the U.S.
 
The screening, held May 7 at the Tamkin Auditorium at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, was followed by a panel discussion featuring Turlington Burns; Ted Braun, the writer and director of the 2007 documentary on the genocide in Sudan, "Darfur Now," and an associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts; Dr. Paula Tavrow, director of UCLA's Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health and an adjunct assistant professor of community health sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health; and Dr. Christopher Tarnay, director of urogynecology in the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Tarnay recently returned from a Medicine for Humanity mission in Uganda. The discussion was moderated by Julie Cantor, an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law.
 
"Sharing our stories is one of the best ways to positively… and collectively affect change," said Turlington Burns, who shared her own personal account of complications during childbirth.
 
The film, which is part of the Every Mother Counts campaign, an advocacy and mobilization initiative founded by Turlington Burns to increase education and support for the global reduction of maternal mortality, addressed a variety of issues. Giving birth in the United States, where women lacking health insurance have difficulty finding prenatal, labor and post-partum care can be as problematic for pregnant women as giving birth in Africa.
 
"Unfortunately giving birth in poor countries is very dangerous," said Tavrow, who has worked with women in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Gambia.

Paula Tavrow and Chris Tarney
Dr. Paula Tavrow and Dr. Christopher Tarney, both from UCLA, speak about their experiences of treating women in Africa. Tarney recently returned from a medical mission in Uganda.
Dr. Tavrow spoke not only of the health risks associated with labor but also of some of the other long-term costs for women. "It’s extremely difficult for a girl who has given birth to stay in school," she said, noting that some first-time mothers may be as young as 12 years old. In most places in sub-Saharan Africa, as soon as a young woman’s pregnancy is noticed she’s no longer allowed to stay in school. After giving birth, she may not return to school because of the social stigma associated with her pregnancy, her long absence from school, school-related expenses and lack of reliable childcare, Tavrow said.

Dr. Tarnay spoke about the work that he and his colleagues are doing with Medicine for Humanity to help improve the lives of women in southwestern Uganda who live with obstetric fistula, a condition that results from long, obstructed labor that causes "an abnormal connection between the birth canal to the bladder or the rectum, or both." This condition often leaves women leaking urine, which, in turn, leaves them socially ostracized. Twice a year, Medicine for Humanity holds "Fistula Camps" and encourages women to come to the hospital at Mbarara University of Science and Technology for surgery to repair this condition.

"Part of what we do is try to get them not only repaired, but integrated back into society so they can be functional and working," Tarnay said.
 
The May 7 event was sponsored by the UCLA School of Law, the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and Harlen, a luxury brand that supports the empowerment of women, in association with the UCLA Health and Human Rights Law Project, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the UC Global Health Institute.
 
To find out about other upcoming talks on maternal mortality and women’s health in Africa, go to the UCLA International Institute calendar.
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