The Maternal Health Task Force is looking to those working in maternal health for their comments on the recent findings published in the Lancet that suggest a dramatic reduction in global maternal mortality.
Lisa shares her thoughts on the new paper published in the Lancet–or as she calls it, the maternal health “shake up”:
I think what is most interesting in light of the recent findings on new maternal mortality estimates, is the impact this will have on maternal health advocacy messaging.
For so long, we’ve embraced statistics that illustrate the severity of maternal mortality. We all know the staples: “every minute a woman dies of complications due to pregnancy and childbirth” or “every year 500,000 women die in childbirth.” We see films and stories of women in our advocacy materials who are victimized and we learn very little about their lives outside their loss and/or injury.
I am a film maker and when I film in Africa, I am often asked, “Why is it when filmmakers come to Africa, they always want to film the bad parts of Africa?” And my friends in New York ask why I always choose to make “sad face” documentaries. Often, these are the types of projects that organizations working to improve global health are looking and asking for—and with my background in public health, they are also the sort of film I am qualified to make.
We have become complacent with our messaging because our statistics and stories are powerful and effective (at least we think they are)—and they pull at heart strings. However, I think with the recent findings and subsequent change in projections, that we as a community will be forced to reframe our issue and hence our messaging and I think that may ultimately benefit, not only the maternal health community, but the global health world in general. I have believed for some time that global health advocacy is in need of revision or evolution – if anything, to not burn out audiences who are bombarded by stories of poverty and ill-health. Messaging, fundraising and awareness building can still be effective when we show progress, not just problems; when we give attention and a spotlight to individuals or organizations ( both local and global) who are doing it right—and making significant improvements in the health of communities.
I would love to get the call to produce a film about how a certain healthcare worker, with improved medical training, helped save the lives of XY women in her village. I would start my film with the number of women’s lives saved, not lost. I would flip the power dynamic; I would not portray communities as powerless—instead I would ask questions about how the West and world leaders might better support those unsung heroes who are working—and succeeding—at saving lives.
I think this maternal health “shake up” is an opportunity to tell new stories – success stories – of what is working. Stories that the world–and my African and New York critics–will welcome!
For more from Lisa, take a look at her latest post on the MHTF Blog, A Look Behind the Scenes of Lisa Russell’s Film on Obstetric Fistula.