Interview with Dr. Suellen Miller, Director of Safe Motherhood Programs at UCSF

This week WIPA had the pleasure to interview Dr. Suellen Miller, Director of Safe Motherhood Programs at the UCSF Bixby Center for Global and Reproductive Health and Policy.  Dr. Miller is currently conducting a Randomized Cluster Trial of the Lifewrap, an easy-to-use device that helps to stem postpartum hemorrhaging.  A device like the Lifewrap is a perfect example of a public policy solution that recognizes the limits and conditions that contribute to the problem that the device is attempting to address.

The following is an edited transcript of this interview:

What inspired you to you create Lifewraps?

Dr. Suellen Miller

I didn’t create Lifewraps, I adapted an old, out moded piece of ambulance equipment to be something that would be useful to women dying of childbirth-related hemorrhage in developing countries. The reasons so many women die in poor countries are multi-layered and complex, but have a lot to do with lack of education, lack of power, lack of resources and infrastructure and lack of political will. Women die for a multitude of reasons including unskilled and uneducated birth attendants, an inability to recognize the signs of excessive bleeding, lack of decision making authority to move from home to the hospital, lack of access to vehicles/fuel to get to the hospital, far distances between impoverished regions and hospitals, etc. The Lifewrap buys time, helping women survive during the long delays these challenges present. I was inspired to do something to help poor women survive childbirth.

What do you think makes Lifewraps so successful?
Simplicity and efficacy. Lifewraps are so simple that anyone can learn how to save a dying/bleeding woman and they work.  They can keep a woman alive for days until she can get to skilled care.

In your work do you encounter many female health policymakers? Do you think that women policymakers bring a different perspective to international health policymaking?
Yes, I do meet many female health policymakers.  Individuals vary, but many women recognize the inequities other women experience in trying to obtain their basic human rights to a safe delivery. In any room full of women policymakers I often hear women say, about obstetric hemorrhage, oh, that happened to me, if I had been in a different setting, I would have died.

Can you share an example of a moment in your professional career that you think significantly influenced your approach to your work?
Absolutely, my turning point was when I was 20 and working as a social worker in a home for young women in the juvenile justice system.  One young woman, maybe 15, contracted a pelvic infection, and nearly died from an STD.  When we discovered what had happened, I took the other young women to purchase condoms to protect themselves if they would have sex.  I was brought before the board of directors and nearly fired for making sex easier for the residents.  When I asked what else should be done, they replied that if the, “Girls got STDs from having sex it was their punishment for having sex!” That day I decided to become a midwife and work for women’s health rights.

What advice would you give to women who are embarking on a international health policymaking career?
Keep your eye on the prize, remember your sisters, and work for dignity and humanity.

To learn more about the Lifewrap and Dr. Miller’s work visit You can also download the latest published paper on the Lifewrap by clicking the following link, Assessing the Role of the Non-Pneumatic Anti-Shock Garment in Reducing Mortality from Postpartum Hemorrhage in Nigeria.

Suellen Miller, PhD, CNM, MHA.  Dr. Miller, Professor Department of OB/GYN and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, is Director of Safe Motherhood Programs, UCSF Bixby Center for Global and Reproductive Health and Policy. Prior to joining the MCH faculty in January 1997, she was a PEW Health Policy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. Dr. Miller is an experienced maternal health clinician, having practiced as a certified nurse midwife for over thirty years. She received her Ph.D. in Family Health Care Nursing, University of California, San Francisco in 1994.

The author of many articles, she is co-author of the second edition of Hesperian Foundation’s, A Book For Midwives, which was the winner of the American College of Nurse Midwives, 2006 Notable Book Award.  Dr. Miller serves as an adviser on Safe Motherhood to the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Safe Motherhood, Newborn, and Child Health, as a Senior Technical Adviser to the Gates Foundation, “Feasibility of Technologies for Prevention and Management of Obstetric Hemorrhage Project,” was appointed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Hemorrhage in Low Resource Settings, and advises the Millennium Development Village Projects on Obstetric Hemorrhage.

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One Response to Interview with Dr. Suellen Miller, Director of Safe Motherhood Programs at UCSF

  1. paul guerin says:

    Very impressive! You have done a great job bringing Suellen’s work to a wider audience.

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