I left the recent Maternal Health Buzz meeting with a lot of ideas and inspirations, a few frustrations, and many questions. One thread that I was very happy to see running throughout the discussions at the meeting was the recognition that poor maternal health outcomes are the result of a range of social and cultural ideas and behaviors that go way beyond technical or health systems issues. Of course, this is not a new idea. It’s an idea that comes up all the time.
In many meetings that I attend, however, most of the ‘experts’ in the room come from medical, public health, or measurement backgrounds. When someone raises issues like gender, poverty, and inequity, they usually nod and then start talking about misoprostol, maternal mortality estimates, or a health systems issue.
Not that those are not important issues, but the Buzz Meeting was the first time I’ve heard really serious consideration given to the idea that substantial further improvement in maternal health may require tackling extremely difficult and context-specific issues like the role and value of women, the distribution of resources, governance and power, and the responsibility and accountability of governments and communities. These types of issues are not the territory of medical and public health experts.
It’s clear to me that the maternal health field could benefit from more of the type of expertise that comes from the social sciences – political science, sociology, public policy, and economics, among others. Collaborations between maternal health experts and experts from these other fields could potentially move the field forward more quickly in both evidence and programs/policy.