Improving maternal health on a global scale: A historic perspective on the work of WHO and partners


Julianne Weis
(University of Oxford, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine)

The Millennium Development goals expire this year (2015). Some goals, including achieving universal primary education, are on track to be reached, while others, most notoriously MDG 5, to improve maternal health, is lagging far behind. Huge gains in reducing maternal mortality have been made over the last 15 years, but unnecessary deaths continue to occur at a rapid rate, especially in populous nations like Nigeria and India. Given the worlds attention on maternal health, it is worth investigating the history of global maternal health policy, beginning with its origins in the WHOs initial charter from 1948. Maternal health was the only health priority named by the WHO that required a socio-cultural approach, rather than simple biomedical expansion. The decades of policies for mothers have targeted cultural traditions and domestic practices for modern re-orientation. Using the case of Ethiopia, I will examine the history of these policies and their success rate in altering practices surrounding maternity. I will especially examine the role of material poverty and its continued effects on women’s health choices. In their effort to re-socialise the worlds mothers along the lines of a universal modernity, global health policies have often poorly accounted for livelihood restrictions to the implementation of policy ideals.

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Thursday, 5th March 2015, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue: Lucas Room, Keppel Street Building