Leaders in Maternal Health Comment on the New Maternal Mortality Estimates: Dr. Jeremy Shiffman

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By: Dr. Jeremy Shiffman, Associate Professor of Public Administration, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Member, MHTF Editorial Committee

The Maternal Health Task Force is looking to those working in maternal health to comment on the recent findings published in the Lancet that suggest a dramatic reduction in global maternal mortality.

Dr. Jeremy Shiffman has a particular interest in the political dynamics of health and population policy-making in developing countries.

I asked Jeremy to comment on the potential implications, in terms of political priorities, of the recent Lancet publication.

His response:

I think an equally interesting question is what caused the drop – if the drop is as great as is reported – and especially the relative role of factors connected to human agency such as advocacy, government maternal health interventions and donor support for projects vis-a-vis factors connected to socioeconomic structure such as shifts in women’s educational levels, urbanization, diffusion of knowledge, etc – and the interactions between structure and agency. The maternal health field tends to emphasize agency over changes in socioeconomic structure but I think we really need to consider the latter as well if want to make sense of this. All of this presents a major research agenda and I predict people will be coming out of the woodwork to promote their favorite explanatory factor.

From what I’m hearing this report is going to get much attention and may have political implications (scientific and epidemiological discoveries frequently elicit political reactions, however much scientists/epidemiologists wish they would not). It will be interesting to observe how this unfolds. It may function like a Rorschach test: what people say about the findings may reveal some of the deeper beliefs, values and interests they embrace.

For more from Dr. Shiffman, click here to listen to a podcast of his recent presentation on Issue Ascendance in Global Health: The Case of Newborn Survival.

Let us know what you think!