“Guilty until proven innocent”: the contested use of maternal mortality indicators in global health

by Katerini T. Storeng & Dominique P. Béhague
Critical Public Health, 27:2, 163-176

15 pp. 1.1 MB

The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) has risen from obscurity to become a major global health indicator, even appearing as an indicator of progress towards the global Sustainable Development Goals. This has happened despite intractable challenges relating to the measurement of maternal mortality. Even after three decades of measurement innovation, maternal mortality data are widely presumed to be of poor quality, or, as one leading measurement expert has put it, ‘guilty until proven innocent’. This paper explores how and why leading epidemiologists, demographers and statisticians have devoted the better part of the last three decades to producing ever more sophisticated and expensive surveys and mathematical models of globally comparable MMR estimates. The development of better metrics is publicly justified by the need to know which interventions save lives and at what cost.

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