14 April 2010

Good News on Maternal Health Not Welcomed by All

The New York Times has a front page story today on the declining rate of maternal deaths as shown in a new study, attributed in part to efforts to address the problem. The story is one of policy success, and is welcome good news. Apparently, however, not everyone viewed the news positively:

But some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.

“I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” he said.

Dr. Horton said the advocates, whom he declined to name, wanted the new information held and released only after certain meetings about maternal and child health had already taken place.

He said the meetings included one at the United Nations this week, and another to be held in Washington in June, where advocates hope to win support for more foreign aid for maternal health from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other meetings of concern to the advocates are the Pacific Health Summit in June, and the United Nations General Assembly meeting in December.

“People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about,” Dr. Horton said. “But my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.”

Misguided is right.


  1. Isn't it odd that in many cases, the crowd follows a winner and in the investment world that can lead to a bandwagon effect where excessive investment follows success. Perhaps all these women's advocates need to do is make a case for building on success rather than subsidizing failure.

  2. Wow! I agree with Horton -- I'd much rather keep putting money into something that is measurably working. If it wasn't working you'd look for other means (or other people) to accomplish your ends.

  3. I agree with Horton too. I'd rather sustain funding for measures that are working. If the numbers were not declining, I'd support either a) hunting around for different methods or b) deciding that money can't help because we don't know what measures to fund.

  4. Well, of course we'd prefer to spend money on success. But the maternal health activists understand that failure is what really draws public funds. Program not working? We must not have had enough of it!

  5. Much simpler translation would be 'We need to get our budgets in first'

    It's just the old 'More research is needed' but with an NGO/activist slant.