World Maternal Mortality Declining!

Now this is wonderful news!! Full article here.

From a study posted in the Lancet, a number of reasons were given for the improvement: lower pregnancy rates in some countries; higher income, which improves nutrition and access to health care; more education for women; and the increasing availability of “skilled attendants” — people with some medical training — to help women give birth. AIDS still remains a big cause of maternal death, however, with the article saying that what is needed in these areas is more drugs to fight HIV/AIDS rather than more skilled attendants.

But here’s the part I don’t quite understand: “[S]ome advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.” Yeah, I understand that these people may fear that the decline in deaths will lead to increased apathy about the problem, but, as Dr. Horton said, “…my feeling is that they are misguided in their view that this would be damaging. My view is that actually these numbers help their cause, not hinder it.” In fact, I can see that if there were no change in the rates, that there could be increased apathy, because “nothing we’ve tried so far works, so why bother?” Exactly!

Yet part of me wonders if there is a darker reason for these unnamed “advocates” to delay publication. They apparently wanted the publication to be delayed until after a couple of big meetings with some powerful people (and lots of money) to put towards maternal health. Why? Maybe it’s because I’m optimistic, but I would think that this news would be a big boon to them, as they could say, “Well, now we know what works, so let’s do this and this and this.” After all, isn’t it part of evidence-based medicine to look at what studies say and go from there? This may not be purely “medicine” (higher income and better female education don’t exactly fall under those categories), but it is at least evidence-based funding so that we can get the most bang for our buck. The negative part of me thinks that these people wanted to delay it possibly because the results didn’t match what they expected, and they wanted to push alternative methods for reducing maternal mortality that have not been proven, but which might line their pockets a bit more. I don’t know how exactly all this funding stuff works, but if you have ten different people or organizations each pushing a different way of improving maternal mortality, but only five of those ways have been shown to actually work, then it is likely that the other five unproven (or perhaps disproven) methods may get their funding reduced or even eliminated. If you’re one of those five whose money is about to be cut, don’t you think you’d want to delay the news that what you’re pushing doesn’t work?

Shame on those who wanted to delay the publication of this research! It shows what works, and should be a boost in confidence — it’s exciting that we can actually say that what we’re doing is helping; now let’s redouble our efforts to keep the trend going in the right direction. And if these people had high and pure motives for their desire to delay publication… I don’t know — get a dose of sunshine, watch Pollyanna, or do something to lift your spirits and restore some positivity to your life. At the least, hire a better spin doctor so that you don’t come off looking like a first-class woman-hating jerk, trying to suppress this wonderful news.

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