Critical Maternal Health Knowledge Gaps

Photo of a mother and child at the Mobarakpur Community Clinic in Kulaura Upazila, northeastern Bangladesh.
Image credit
UN Photo/Mark Garten.

As we reflect on lessons learned from the MDGs and set strategies for improving global maternal health, it’s time to identify what has worked and what more is needed to not only avert preventable maternal deaths, but also provide quality health care for every woman.

In a new report for the Women and Health Initiative Working Paper Series, I summarize priorities for maternal health research in low- and middle-income countries based on 3 broad questions that I asked 26 maternal health researchers from 5 continents: 

Critical knowledge gaps
“We know what to do. But the interactions between the interventions and the health system have not been studied.”

The most prominent knowledge gap that remains is implementation research for health systems strengthening. Not only do we need to identify the most effective ways to deliver, scale up and sustain both basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care, but implementation research is needed to ensure we deliver the right packages of care at the right levels of care.

Neglected and crucial issues
“The human resource crisis.”
The most neglected and crucial issue identified is strengthening the health workforce. This topic is broad and includes assessing ideal models for task-shifting, training, supervising and assessing the competence of private or unregulated providers.
Future directions for implementation research
“Over and above medicine, we cannot forget about the socioeconomic situations­—poverty and inequity—that lead to morbidity and mortality.”
While globalization has affected the rising per capita income in many low- and middle-income countries, deep inequities still exist. What’s more is that measuring equity can be elusive. Researchers called for improved measures and better data to allow us to narrow equity gaps.

To explore more research priorities and the way forward for research and programs in maternal health, please read this report, Critical maternal health knowledge gaps in low- and middle-income countries for post-2015: Researchers’ perspectives.
Tamil Kendall, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Women and Health Initiative of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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