“Myths” and Maternal Health: PATH and IDEAS Share Perspectives on 2014 Gates’ Annual Letter

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By: Sarah Blake, MHTF consultant

In this year’s annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates focus on the truth behind three popular “myths” in discussions of global health and development:

  • Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
  • Foreign aid is a big waste
  • Saving lives leads to overpopulation

The letter not only highlights evidence challenging these popular perceptions, but explores some of the reasons why they are so commonly held, as well as the consequences that their popularity may carry. In the weeks since the letter was published, many media organizations and NGOs have joined the discussion of this year’s letter and the evidence that it presents regarding prospects for health and economic development.

Two of the highlights of this discussion include blog posts by our colleagues at PATH and IDEAS.

IDEAS discusses the specific ways that the letter “strikes a chord,” resonating with their work in assessing the Gates Foundation’s work efforts to implement valuable, cost-effective programs to improve the health of women and their families. Further, the post highlights its efforts to promote health along the reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health continuum: 

“The projects we working with in Ethiopia, Uttar Pradesh, India, and North East Nigeria are not introducing revolutionary concepts.  Instead, they are bringing basic, fundamental knowledge to front line health workers, families and local communities about:

  • How to improve the health and survival of mothers and newborns, for example through low-cost, simple approaches such as. breastfeeding, keep the newborn warm, cutting the cord with a sterilised knife, looking out for danger signs during pregnancy), and
  • How women can take control of and plan for a healthy, sustainable future for their families.”

PATH expands on the theme of “myths” in health, with a series of six blog posts tackling harmful myths in global health, including the idea that “women don’t die in childbirth anymore.”  In her post on maternal mortality, Senior Policy and Advocacy Associate for reproductive, maternal, and newborn health Elesha Kingshott points out that“We may be well into the 21st century, but devastating maternal deaths are not yet a thing of the past. About 800 women die every day from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth. Almost all of them live in poor countries, and most of their deaths could be prevented.” Further, she highlights the importance of innovative approaches to ensuring that more women have access to proven interventions. She points out:

“Excessive bleeding during or just after childbirth accounts for about a quarter of all maternal deaths. It’s also a complication with proven interventions. Medicines such as oxytocin and misoprostol, for example, can prevent excessive bleeding for less than US$1 a dose. And the nonpneumatic antishock garment has the potential to keep a mother experiencing excessive bleeding alive until she can be transported to a health facility with a higher level of care.”