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Studies question UN strategies to save mothers

Published:Monday | June 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM


IN THE past decade, billions of dollars have been spent trying to save the lives of mothers in developing countries using strategies - usually inexpensive drugs - deemed essential by the U.N. health agency.

Yet, two large analyses of maternal health programmes - including one conducted by the U.N. itself - report that the efforts appeared almost useless, raising troubling questions about why all that money was spent.

While critics are calling for the pricey global initiatives to be significantly overhauled, the programmes are still being implemented despite little proof they work. The practices mainly involve things like ensuring women giving birth get cheap drugs such as magnesium sulphate to treat labour complications or pre-emptive antibiotics for those getting a caesarean section.

Even public health officials acknowledge they were taken aback by the studies.

"Nobody could have been more surprised than I was when we got the results," said Dr Omrana Pasha of Aga Khan University in Pakistan, who led a study of maternal health interventions in six countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

"In clinical medicine, we would not prescribe a drug unless multiple trials show that it works," she added. "The FDA won't allow a drug to be marketed without that evidence. But things are different in public health."