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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Murray’

The controversial research reporting unexpected gains in maternal health, published April 12 in the Lancet, has triggered rigorous debate about the measurement tools used to count maternal deaths globally and at a country level. The paper, Maternal mortality for 181 countries, 1980-2008: a systematic analysis of progress towards Millennium Development Goal 5, was written by Chris Murray and his team of researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The study found a dramatic reduction in the number of women dying from pregnancy complications between 1980 and 2008–and these findings have triggered both celebration and skepticism within the global health community. Some global health leaders are cheering the global progress toward MDG5 indicated by the research. Some are expressing cautious optimism. Others are challenging the paper’s methodology, asking whether it really signals big gains in the struggle against global maternal mortality or just flawed means of estimating how many women are dying.

On June 5th, the Lancet published a reply from Chris Murray in which he addresses some of the concerns voiced by his fellow global health researchers regarding the methodology of the study.

“We appreciate the rich set of letters in response to our paper on maternal mortality. The authors of the letters raise many important points, but we focus our short response on four larger themes that have been raised.

The country graphs in the webappendix to our paper show all the available data points for each country and our best estimates based on these data and the modelling strategy. In the case of the Philippines, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, and Peru, the correspondents have noted that our data-points derived from the analysis of sibling histories in household surveys are different from published figures from the same surveys. The differences stem from two sources. First, we correct for problems of survivor bias in sibling histories, following the published methods of Gakidou and Kingand Obermeyer and colleagues...”

Read the full reply by Chris Murray on the Lancet Online. Be sure to take a look at some of the critiques of the study–linked on the right panel next to Murray’s reply.

For more on this topic, take a look at a recent post, New Maternal Mortality Estimates Published in the Lancet: What’s the Buzz?, on the Maternal Health Task Force’s new MedScape Blog, GlobalMama.


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The Kaiser Family Foundation is holding a policy forum (open to the public) where experts will comment on progress toward achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5–and explore the role of the U.S. in improving global maternal and child health. The event will take place on May 24th, from 9:30am to 11:00am ET at the Foundation’s Washington D.C. office.

The Kaiser Family Foundation

“…Recently published data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) show some progress in improving maternal health globally in recent years, though substantially more progress will be needed to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for reducing child mortality and improving maternal health by 2015...

…The expert panel discussion will include Jennifer Klein, senior advisor on global women’s issues at the U.S. Department of State; Flavia Bustreo, director, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, World Health Organization; Ana Langer, president, EngenderHealth; Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington; and Jen Kates, vice president and director of Global Health Policy and HIV, Kaiser Family Foundation.  Foundation Executive Vice President Diane Rowland will moderate…”

For event details and information on how to RSVP, click here. You will also find information on how to view the archived webcast of the event.

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On Wednesday, the Columbia Journalism Review published a thoughtful analysis of how the media is covering the new global maternal mortality estimates published in the Lancet on Monday. The piece provides a good overview of  how a handful of major news organizations are choosing to frame the story–raising questions about why some organizations  are choosing to focus on the content of the Lancet paper, while others ere focusing more on the ‘side story’ of a group of maternal health advocates who apparently pressured the Lancet not to publish the paper ( at least not to publish it yet). The Columbia Journalism Review analysis concludes that, overall,  the reporting on this story has been “simple” and “narrowly focused.”

“…A slew of news articles this week have focused on two recent reports about the number of women who die during pregnancy or in childbirth around the world every year.

The reports don’t exactly agree, and with public health experts and heads of state meeting at the United Nations this week to discuss maternal and child health issues, it is no surprise that some squabbling over the data has emerged. Unfortunately, reporters have not provided much detail or clarity about either the squabbling or the data…”

Read the full analysis here.

What do you think about how the media is covering this story?

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Several leading media outlets are covering the news of dramatic global declines in maternal deaths–and raising questions about why a group of women’s health advocates pressured the Lancet to delay publishing the findings…

The New York Times

“…The study cited a number of reasons 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. Improvements in large countries like India and China helped to drive down the overall death rates.

But some 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…”

Read the full story, Maternal Deaths Decline Sharply Across the Globe, on NYTimes.com.

The New York Times Freakonomics Blog

The New York Times Freakonomics Blog also had something to say about this story and provided some background information on the history of maternal mortality–including a reference to the contributions to maternal health of Ignatz Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically reduced with basic hand washing (ie. Medical students needed to wash their hands between cutting open cadavers and delivering babies!!).

Read the full post, Who’s Not Happy About a Falling Maternal Death Rate?, on the New York Times Freakonomics Blog.

Also see stories from the Associated Press, Lancet reports drops in maternal childbirth deaths, says it was pressured not to publish story; and from the Washington Post, Fewer Women Dying in Childbirth, Study Says.

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Sarah Boseley reflects on the new maternal mortality estimates published today in the Lancet. She talks with Chris Murray , Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, about his research–and raises tough questions regarding the implications of the new data. For example: “Does it mean we need more money for maternal health or less?”

 Sarah Boseley’s Global Health Blog

“…It’s remarkable news – and all the more remarkable because it’s been happening without anyone realising it. It’s like waking up and finding somebody has demolished the ugly old building across the road and planted trees instead. Hard to believe the scenery has changed quite so dramatically. The new optimistic outlook will take some getting used to. This is what Dr Murray told me.

The whole community has been living off 500,000 women dying a year for the last 30 years. That’s fed a sense of almost pessimism that it is difficult to change maternal mortality.

Murray and colleagues have got new data, that has not been systematically put together in the past, and new tools…”

Read the full story, Saving Women’s Lives in Childbirth–It’s More Possible Than We Thought.

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