Dr. Sokol joins national effort to reduce maternal pregnancy-related complications, deaths

December 03, 2015

The United States is one of only eight countries in the world, including Afghanistan, Botswana and Zimbabwe, where the rate of women who die as a result of childbirth is rising, according to a 2014 article published in The Lancet. Maternal mortality rose 1.7 percent from 1990 to 2013, and in 2011, 17.8 women died for every 100,000 live births, double the rate in 1987, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from causes like maternal hemorrhaging, sepsis, pregnancy-related infections, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labor.

According to a 2013 report on pregnancy-associated mortality by the Michigan Maternal Mortality Surveillance, 22 women in Michigan died per 100,000 live births, making it the eighth-highest state in the nation, and the third-highest for non-Hispanic African-American women. Detroit’s maternal mortality rate is three times the national average.

To address the rising numbers, Wayne State University, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association have joined forces to partner with more than 30 national and local organizations to reduce severe morbidity and maternal mortality.

“The Michigan Maternal Mortality Surveillance Medical Committee has been working toward the reduction of maternal mortality for the past decade,” said Robert Sokol, M.D., emeritus distinguished professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and of Physiology, and chair of the MMMS Committee.

Dr. Sokol, former director of the School of Medicine’s C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development, is leading WSU on the initiative. “We see an opportunity now to do a better job preventing maternal deaths and severe illness with our partners in this public and private statewide consortium,” he added.

The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health Program, or AIM, is a national partnership of organizations working to reduce severe maternal morbidity by 100,000 events and maternal mortality by 1,000 deaths by 2018. The national AIM Program will provide technical assistance and implementation support to eight states, including Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan and Oklahoma, with more to come. The national program has created “Maternal Safety Bundles,” which outline a structured framework and overarching checklist of what every birthing unit should have. All bundles include examples of support for patients, families and staff involved in traumatic events.

The Michigan partnership, called MI AIM, will work to provide information and resources to each birthing center in Michigan to ensure that every woman has access to best practices and the best chance for a safe and uneventful birth experience. Dr. Sokol organized a MI-AIM Kickoff Meeting held Dec. 1 in Lansing, and was one of five keynote and distinguished speakers. He also welcomed invited guests to the meeting and announced MI AIM’s next steps at the end of the day.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association, or MHA, advocates in Michigan and Washington, D.C., on behalf of health care providers and the communities and patients they serve. MI AIM’s objectives are to recruit health care professionals as volunteers to lead and participate in the initiative and develop partnerships throughout the state; evaluate all 84 Michigan birthing facilities to assess preparedness for maternal emergencies through the efforts of the MHA Keystone: Obstetrics collaborative, including teaching how to conduct drills, debriefings and other portions of continuous clinical improvement; refine the Maternal Safety Bundles that the national organization has prepared to address Michigan’s specific issues, including assessing need, readiness, and potential for ease of integration into current practice; using volunteers, ensure that each Michigan birthing facility has access to the bundles and understands how to use them, requiring site visits and a series of meetings; and evaluate what elements of the program are successful and which need further exploration.

“This new partnership between MDHHS, MHA and WSU is vital to saving the lives of women in Michigan during childbirth,” said Eden Wells, M.D., chief medical executive with MDHHS. “While Michigan’s national ranking is staggering, Detroit has three times the nation’s maternal mortality rate at 58.7 deaths per 100,000 births. We need to work collaboratively to address not only this issue as a whole but the health equity issues it poses for Michigan families as well.”

For more information about the national AIM Program, visit

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