The welcome news is that globally maternal mortality is declining even though it may not be as fast as desired nor equally across all economic groups. Two recent estimates bring us this good news providing further fresh impetus to ongoing initiatives:
The second good news is that these estimates have focused attention on what has been known for a long time—the dearth of good quality data. Timely and quality data are essential to monitor programs, facilitate decision-making, and improve accountability of programs and governments to their citizens. “What gets measured gets done” is true in the field of maternal health as any other development field.
The emphasis in discussions of maternal mortality so far has been on estimating the number of deaths. Estimating deaths is important for advocacy and for rallying support to this important cause. But, it is time now to move the dialogue beyond death counts to measuring morbidities, monitoring the quality of services, ensuring data are recorded consistently and accurately in health facilities and are collected and reported in a timely fashion.
As countries implement medical interventions to save women’s life, strengthen their health systems, they can also innovate with data collection approaches. In a digital world, timely and good quality data collection should be easier, faster, and one can argue cheaper. There are proven examples of how primary health care facilities in remote areas are able to connect via cell phones to their districts and provincial headquarters to report current health situations and be provided immediate feedback. PDAs can be useful to frontline workers to organize their schedules for conducting outreach work and home visits. Client data can be entered in real time and transmitted to central databases making reporting easier and reducing time spent on manual recording across multiple registers.
With the myriad possibilities of digital data collection available, it is only the paucity of imagination that holds us back.