Celebrities Help Launch “Mamma Campaign” in Sweden

STOCKHOLM—Noted Swedish authors and TV personalities turned Mother’s Day in Sweden into a launching pad for a nationwide "Mamma Campaign" for education and action on high maternal mortality rates around the world.

The five-year project of the Swedish Family Planning Association (RFSU by its Swedish initials) opened here May 25 with celebrity readings and academic seminars on the reasons half a million women still die every year from pregnancy-related causes.

Sweden’s largest daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, published an article on the situation by three of the campaign's new "Mamma ambassadors": novelist Karin Alfredsson, whose latest work focuses on the repercussions of unsafe abortions; journalist Katarina Wennstam; and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Katarina Ahlstrom.

"By using these liked and popular faces to deliver this message, we create attention around the issues," said Ylva Bergman, RFSU editor and Mamma Campaign coordinator.

Sweden's maternal mortality rate is one of the world's lowest, but most countries are not so lucky, noted Staffan Bergstrom, professor of international health and senior obstetrician at the Karolinska Institute's Division of International Health. "Pregnancy is not a disease," he said at the opening event, “but still it is associated with more deaths and lifelong disabilities than any other condition of poor women in the world.”

The campaign launch, stimulated by the international Women Deliver conference last October in London, included speakers from Bangladesh and Kenya who presented case studies on the dangers facing pregnant women in their countries.

"Had we lived there, we might also have risked our lives having an unsafe abortion, or maybe we would not have reached medical help or a midwife in time during a difficult delivery," Bergman said. Swedes concerned about the situation could donate to an RFSU project to educate midwives in Nicaragua or to promote safe abortion services instead of buying Mother's Day presents for their mothers, she said.

"Next year we will expand the campaign into more ambassadors, more media all over Sweden, to create more awareness and pressure on politicians to start acting on this issue," said RFSU Secretary-General Asa Regner. "This hidden catastrophe must be stopped."

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