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Global Studies grad earns top program honor for paper on maternal death in developing world
Donna Sohn at the United Nations building in New York.

Global Studies grad earns top program honor for paper on maternal death in developing world

Alumna reflects on importance of international research, international understanding.

Rebecca Kendall Email RebeccaKendall

Although the birth of a baby is commonly rejoiced in America, the birth of a child remains is a death sentence for half a million mothers around the world each year.

“Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths are concentrated in the developing world, which is unbelievable because in the United States we often consider it to be a problem of the past,” says Donna Sohn, a recent Global Studies graduate and this year’s recipient of the Global Studies Senior Thesis Award. “This act of giving life is the number one killer of women in the developing world.”

Valued at $500, this award provides not only a financial boost for winners but it instills a sense of pride and accomplishment. “I didn’t expect to win at all. It was such an honor that the work was recognized. It is something that I was passionate about, and I’m glad it came through in the writing.”

Her paper focused on the role that globalization plays in maternal deaths around the world. Most causes of maternal deaths are preventable with basic care; however, poverty and global inequalities often result in unaffordable, inaccessible and inadequate maternal healthcare, says Sohn. “These inequalities reflect, and are products of, the many political, economic and social factors that drive maternal health trends.”

Her correlation analysis found that there is a statistically significant relationship between the maternal mortality rate (MMR) and levels of globalization for the years 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2008, though a linear association between MMR and globalization exists, she says her findings do not imply that globalization causes maternal mortality. MMR represents the number of maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births.

Her findings do, however, suggest that globalization levels affect MMR levels differently depending on the particular country's level of wealth; poverty and poor health persist most severely in countries that have not integrated into the global economy—predominantly those in the developing world; and that geographic distribution of MMR shows a pattern inverse to that of globalization.

“Many countries with high MMR have low levels of globalization, and many countries with low MMR have high levels of globalization.”

She says that maternal health is one of the hardest health indicators to target or to fix, but by fixing the underlying sources of maternal death the prevalence of orphaned and abandoned children can be reduced. “I think the absence of mothers in society is very detrimental,” says Sohn.  “It’s not just a health problem. It’s a social problem and an economic problem. “

As countries are integrated into the global economy, to varying degrees, the benefits of economic growth are unevenly distributed among the world’s population, she says. Globalization can result in economic growth in rich and able countries, but can also result in economic stagnation or decline in poor ones, she says. These regions continue to suffer from the many corollaries of poverty, including the persistence of maternal mortality.

Her interest in the topic of equality was sparked by trips she took with her family, including those to the Bahamas and Mexico, places where tourists enjoy a posh existence while the locals live mere miles away in abject poverty. A later volunteer trip to the Dominican Republic, where she did clinical work in a village inhabited by Haitians, solidified her commitment to exploring topics of social justice and equality.

She says that international education is important for people her age because it is an increasingly globalized world. “It’s important to being aware of other cultures and conscious of how our society interacts with other parts of the world and how that affects us all.”

In the summer of 2010, she learned more about international policy and governance through a UCLA study trip to New York City, where she learned about the United Nations and was challenged to think about the role that nations play in helping to solve international problems outside of their borders.

More recently her interests have expanded to include teaching, policy-making and education reform. A former literacy volunteer in Watts, Sohn is currently working at an afterschool program for middle school kids and teaching at a continuation high school in Wilmington.

“Kids need to be reminded that they’re capable and that someone cares about them. I think I might love that part of teaching more than imparting knowledge.”

The award-winning Global Studies theses are available via alumni profiles on the UCLA International Institute website. Sohn's thesis is here.

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