IPN News coverage
In a world riddled with misery and want, some good news recently emerged. Over the last three decades, a new study finds, the number of women who die annually while pregnant or giving birth has fallen by a third.
That means 180,000 lives saved in 2008 alone. In India and China, the death rate dropped by more than half. Among the factors contributing to the progress are rising incomes, expanded prenatal care, more access to education among girls and lower pregnancy rates.
The progress is an especially heartening surprise because the problem long appeared to be intractable. So you would think the people who work to improve the health of women would want to shout the news from the rooftops. But not necessarily.
"I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict," Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, told The New York Times.
It seems that when the magazine agreed to publish the findings, it came under pressure to hold off for a while — say, until after a couple of major international health summits scheduled for later this year.
"People who have spent many years committed to the issue of maternal health were understandably worried that these figures could divert attention from an issue that they care passionately about," Horton said.
That's a dubious concern. Governments and citizens may respond to stagnant progress by giving up, figuring that any money or time spent on the problem will be wasted. Evidence of improvement is more likely to stimulate interest and investment.
As it happens, not everyone quite agrees. A new report from a group affiliated with the United Nations says maternal deaths remain higher than the Lancet study indicates.
Maybe so, or maybe not. "The U.N. has a track record of inflating disease figures to keep the aid money flowing, so I'd probably place more faith in the figures which show a lower disease burden," Philip Stevens of International Policy Network in London told The Associated Press.
But in any event, the chance that hard data will elicit an unwanted reaction is not a good reason to suppress it. Had the critics had their way, this news would not have come out until December or later, and any decisions on policy would have been based on incomplete, inaccurate information. Citizens and taxpayers have a right to know whether the policies pursued by their leaders are working or not.
Were the Lancet study wrong, it wouldn't deserve attention now or later. But as scientists who fear global warming have learned, suppressing inconvenient facts is the best way to discredit your cause.
Also published in the Fresno Bee: http://www.fresnobee.com/2010/04/21/1906083/good-news-on-health-isnt-always.html