The urgent call for innovation and investment in maternal health

More than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci became fascinated by his anatomical dissection of the womb of a pregnant woman who had died and intended to uncover the secrets behind conception and pregnancy complications. But da Vinci was stumped. Shockingly, in 2023, there’s still so much left to unravel, as women’s health remains one of the most underfunded, under-researched, and underserved areas of investment and study.

It’s an opportunity with a massive audience — potentially every family — that because of the historic underinvestment, has very low competition. The market is on the brink of breaking through with genomics and AI rising to meet the extreme unmet need. Now is the time to invest and innovate.

As women increasingly share their experiences, their stories bring to life how America is failing moms and amplify the urgency for us to act and innovate breakthroughs in women’s and pregnancy health. Recent CDC data shows U.S. maternal mortality rates have increased by 40% — meaning pregnancy is more dangerous now than it was for our mothers.

The maternal health crisis is even more devastating for Black women, who are 2.5x more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to white women. And 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, highlighting how we as a society must do more to make pregnancy and childbirth a dignified and safe experience for all. I believe as entrepreneurs, founders, technologists and more, we must lead the charge on this.

We’ve entered the golden age of medicine: From the lightning-fast development of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines that saved millions of lives to incredible progress on immunotherapy interventions targeting metastatic forms of cancer, to the advent of AI and machine learning to accelerate drug development across the healthcare spectrum, it’s an exciting time to be in medicine, given the pace of breakthroughs we’re seeing every day. Compared to crowded fields like oncology and other biotech areas, there are only a handful of players working to champion the big opportunities in maternal health and to truly be the leader in the space.

Women’s health remains one of the most underfunded, under-researched, and underserved areas of investment and study.

It’s clear that maternal health has been left behind among the breakthroughs in medicine. This is troubling because women’s health is family health. Women who experience pregnancy complications face an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, mental health conditions and premature death, and children born preterm are at increased risk for numerous challenges across their life span. This disproportionate impact on families means that women’s health should concern every one of us, not just mothers. This can, and must, change. Maternal health is family health.

Women’s health needs to be the new frontier in technology investing

Understanding and believing the truth that women’s health is family health is an important first step in ushering in a new wave of investment and attention to companies focused on advancing women’s health outcomes. This again highlights the huge need and opportunity — the market is large, with nearly 4 million babies born every year in the U.S. With a healthy pregnancy free of complications, children are more equipped to achieve good health outcomes over the course of their lives, creating positive ripple effects for the health of their families and their future families for generations to come.

Another important step to usher in investment and attention on women’s health is to increase the number of women in high-ranking positions within technology, venture capital, government institutions, and more. Simply put, we need more women in high-impact roles. Among venture investors, women represent only 9% of all venture capitalists in the U.S. Women hold only 25% of the seats in the U.S. Senate and 28% of the seats in the U.S. House. And only 37 women currently serving in Congress are mothers to children under the age of 18.

I’m happy to report that women make up roughly two-thirds of our leadership team at Mirvie.

In addition to adding more female investors, elected officials, founders, and CEOs, we need men in these positions to champion maternal health. It is mind-boggling that we've gone backward in the 21st century. Reversing the trends of maternal mortality and morbidity is one of the biggest societal challenges we face. We need to broaden the support and ensure both men and women are helping drive changes to create healthier futures for our families.

While there is a lot of “doom and gloom” surrounding the current state of maternal health, it’s important to recognize the promise and hope for breakthroughs on the horizon. From the prediction of pregnancy complications, targeted treatments if complications do arise, and a concerted effort to increase access to doulas and other care providers to improve outcomes, we’re on the cusp of propelling women’s health forward with increased investment, attention, and opportunity.

In the world of technology and venture capital, we have the immense privilege of being able to provide the necessary resources to fund life-changing — and even life-improving — companies that are pushing women’s health forward. Now is the time we give them the attention and investment they deserve to ensure we’re creating a world where every pregnancy is as safe and healthy as possible.