Sep 16
September 16, 2015

Christy Turlington Burns on Maternal Health and Human Rights


In this interview, we asked Christy Turlington Burns about her work to help make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother across the globe. The work of Christy’s organization, Every Mother Counts, has helped save countless lives and is one of the many organizations that have contributed to the decline in the maternal mortality rate by nearly half since the early 1990s. However, as No Ceilings data finds, we’ve made progress, but we’re still #NotThere yet in eliminating needless deaths from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. 


Christy, you’ve gone from being one of the most celebrated models of our time to serving as a leading advocate for maternal health. How did you get involved in this work?

It didn’t happen overnight. I started to become active around issues I was passionate about in my twenties when I advocated for postwar El Salvador, my mother’s birth country. A few years later I focused on tobacco prevention and cessation after losing my father to lung cancer. However, it was twelve years ago that I became a global maternal healthcare advocate. It was the day I became a mother. Within an hour of delivering my daughter, I hemorrhaged. If not for the competent care of a team of providers that included a doula, midwife, nurses and backing OB, I might not be here today. Soon after my delivery, I learned that hundreds of thousands of girls and women die annually from the same complication I endured and survived as well as other causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Nearly all of these deaths are preventable. 

Since then I have dedicated my attention and resources to this issue. I made a documentary film called “No Woman, No Cry,” in 2010 to raise awareness around an avoidable tragedy that very few people know about, yet so many of us are touched by. I wanted to put human faces to these shocking statistics and to allow a wider audience to have a chance to put their feet in the shoes of other mothers who don’t have access to even the most basic of care and services to ensure a safe delivery.

Following the release of the film, I founded Every Mother Counts, a campaign dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.


Tell us how your organization, Every Mother Counts, is helping to reduce maternal mortality.

Our goal is to educate and activate as many individuals as possible. We want them to use their voices and share their stories to help improve maternal health, proving what is possible when we come together. We provide opportunities for individuals to engage in meaningful ways to raise awareness and/or funds, which go towards programs that improve access to quality maternal healthcare in seven countries.  Nearly 99 percent of global maternal deaths take place in developing countries. Three out of five of these occur in just ten of them, including Uganda, Tanzania and India where Every Mother Counts is working. 

We are helping to transport more mothers, train more skilled providers and supply those providers with the tools they need to do their jobs well.

Maternal mortality is a global problem that also hits home. In the United States, we lose three women per day to a pregnancy related death. Most Americans are horrified to learn that the United States is one of just eight countries with a rising maternal mortality rate, alongside Afghanistan, Belize, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Greece, Seychelles, and South Sudan. While some of the challenges and barriers facing women in the U.S. may differ from those facing women in Tanzania, many are the same and all women deserve the chance to survive becoming a mother. For far too many women in the United States, prenatal education and quality care is cost-prohibitive and out of reach. Our U.S. grants are helping more women overcome financial barriers so they can get the care they need.

Learn more about our grants here.


In previous discussions you’ve had, you’ve talked about the link between maternal health and human rights. Can you tell us more about this connection?

I believe it’s every woman’s human right to have access to the services required to ensure a safe pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum period. No woman should have to die bringing life into the world. And a woman’s geography, income, race, or ethnicity should not stand as a determinant for her equal rights or opportunities. Even one preventable death is a death too many.


What’s next for you and Every Mother Counts? What do you hope to achieve over the next five years?

We remain committed to the global effort to end preventable deaths at birth. We aim to grow our community to two million by 2020 and with their partnership we will double the impact of our investments. When women are healthy and supported, they can do anything. Every Mother Counts is dedicated to our mission to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother - for as long as it takes.


To learn more about the gains girls and women have made around the world, and the gaps that remain, check out our #NotThere campaign in partnership with MTV’s Look Different, and learn the facts on