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Mailman School Student and Former Supermodel Christy Turlington Burns Makes Directorial Debut with Film on Maternal Mortality

Photo credit: Josh Estey

Mailman School of Public Health student and former supermodel Christy Turlington Burns made her directorial debut last week at the world renowned Tribeca Film Festival in New York with her documentary, No Woman No Cry.

In the film, Ms. Turlington Burns shares the powerful personal stories of pregnant women in four parts of the world; while the capacity to meet the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth varied from location to location, the women share a common hope that they will survive despite the odds against them.

The highlighted sites include a remote Maasai tribe in Tanzania, a slum of Bangladesh, a post-abortion care ward in Guatemala, and a prenatal clinic for vulnerable women in the United States. Unfortunately, as the film suggests, very little progress has yet been made towards Millennium Development Goal 5—to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015.

A student in the Mailman School’s Heilbrunn Department of Population & Family Health, Ms. Turlington Burns became an advocate for maternal health after suffering a complication following the birth of her own child in 2003. When she learned that an estimated 500,000 women die each year during childbirth—and that 90 percent of these deaths are preventable—she was inspired to tell the stories of women at risk and what needs to be done to address these dire statistics.

“These two factors had an overwhelming influence in my decision to become involved in women’s reproductive health and are what motivated me to return to school and work towards a degree in public health,” says Ms. Turlington Burns. Today, in addition to being a student at the Mailman School, Ms. Turlington Burns is the Maternal Health Advocate for the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE).

No Woman, No Cry

Ms. Turlington Burns points to the invaluable support and guidance she received for the project. Among the members of the No Woman No Cry Advisory Council, she particularly cites human rights advocate Professor Lynn Freedman, JD, MPH, Mailman School professor of population and family health and Director of the Averting Maternal Death and Disability Program (AMDD), who shared the podium with Ms. Turlington Burns at a discussion held following the April 24th screening.

Also partnering on the project were some of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to achieving universal access to reproductive health for women globally, including the Mailman School’s own AMDD in the Department of Population & Family Health, which works to strengthen national health systems to provide emergency care for all women experiencing life-threatening obstetric complications. Since 1999, AMDD has worked with partners in over 50 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. No Woman, No Cry is dedicated to the late Allan Rosenfield, MD, who was dean of the Mailman School of Public Health for over 20 years and a tireless advocate for women’s reproductive rights.

Says Ms. Turlington Burns, “I hope that by bringing people together through the universal experience of birth, we can help create a mainstream maternal health movement that ensures the lives and well-being of mothers worldwide for generations to come.”

View a clip from No Woman, No Cry. For more information on the movie and maternal mortality, visit everymothercounts.org.