Former supermodel screens debut documentary at UCLA
Kal Raustiala, director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, introduces, from left, Ted Braun, Christy Turlington Burns, Julie Cantor, Dr. Paula Tavrow and Dr. Christopher Tarnay

By Rebecca Kendall, Director of Communications

Former supermodel screens debut documentary at UCLA

Maternal mortality is brought to light through film, upcoming talk

“Unfortunately giving birth in poor countries is very dangerous."

UCLA Today

Somewhere on the planet, there's a woman facing death in the midst of giving life.

One thousand women die each day due to pregancy-related causes. For every woman who dies, there are 20 to 30 more who will suffer from lifelong disabilities caused by childbirth.

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 Regan UCLA Medical Center, was followed by a panel discussion featuring Turlington Burns, Ted Braun writer and director of the 2007 documentary "Darfur Now," examining the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, 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 UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, and Dr. Christopher Tarnay, director of urogynecology in the UCLA Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who 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.

“I think 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, including lack of medical services in remote areas of Africa, the cultural and philosophical principals that may shape a women’s choice to give birth at home rather than in a hospital setting, and lack of access to prenatal, labor and post-partum care for women lacking health insurance in the United States. 

“Unfortunately giving birth in poor countries is very dangerous,” said Tavrow, who has worked with women in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Gambia. 

Tavrow spoke not only of the health risks associated with labor but also of some of the other long-term costs for women in the areas where she has worked. “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. She said that 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. In addition, returning is a challenge because of the social stigma associated with her pregnancy, the time she has lost due to being forced to leave school, expenses that may be associated with going to school, and lack of reliable childcare.

In addition, 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 and that causes “an abnormal connection between the birth canal to the bladder or the rectum, or both” and that often leaves women leaking urine, which, in turn, leaves them socially ostracized. Medicine for Humanity holds twice annual “Fistula Camps,” airing radio announcements encouraging women to come to the Mbarara University of Science and Technology hospital to receive 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.”

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.

Reducing maternal mortality in Africa is the focus of an upcoming talk organized by Tavrow as part of the Women’s Health and Empowerment in Africa talk series sponsored by the UCLA African Studies Center and the UC Global Health Institute, and funded by a grant from the UCLA International Institute.

The talk, which will be held on May 16, features Dr. Grace Kodindo, an assistant professor in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and the medical and advocacy advisor for the Reproductive Health Access, Information, Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative, also at Columbia. Born and raised in Chad, Kodindo received the Chad Medal of Honor in 1997; the Distinguished Community Service Award for Emergency Obstetric Care from Columbia University and international Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2000; and the MDG 3 Champion Torch for Action from the Denmark government in 2009. She was also involved in the BBC documentaries “Dead Mums Don’t Cry” and “Grace Under Fire.”The series concludes May 23 with Dr. Nawal Nour from Harvard University, who will discuss female genital circumcision in Africa and the associated health implications. Both talks will be held in the School of Public Health, 17-256 CHS, beginning at 1 p.m.

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012