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New Report Sheds Light on Knowledge Gaps Critical to Advancing Maternal Health in the Developing World

The Maternal Health Task Force at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health published a comprehensive report highlighting key areas where more research is needed to advance the state of maternal health. The report, “Critical Maternal Health Knowledge Gaps in Low- and Middle-Income Countries for Post-2015: Researchers’ Perspectives,” was based upon consultations with leading maternal health leaders, including Merck for Mothers’ Executive Director Priya Agrawal. Chief among its findings was prioritizing research for health systems strengthening to deliver evidence-based, high-quality services at scale.

The following outlines other major priorities for the maternal health community:

1) Persistent knowledge gaps

  • Strengthening health service delivery and identifying models that can deliver high-quality services in different contexts sustainably
  • Improving quality of care in health facilities (measuring quality and outcomes)
  • Increasing data on direct and indirect causes of maternal death
  • Identifying interventions that could promote women’s empowerment
  • Increasing availability and use of contraception, particularly long-acting reversible contraceptives
  • Increasing access to safe abortion to prevent maternal mortality and morbidity

2) Issues that have not received adequate attention from donors/researchers

  • Insufficient availability of well-trained health workers
  • Preventing disrespect and abuse during maternity care
  • Addressing the over-medicalization of childbirth
  • Understanding demand generation and the different barriers to facility-based care
  • Preventing and treating maternal morbidities

3) New issues and emerging challenges that affect maternal health

Major Challenges

  • Managing the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases among women of reproductive age
  • Addressing the persistence of social and economic inequality
  • Understanding effects of urbanization on health systems
Key Opporunities
  • Exploring the potential for communication technologies to improve maternal health
  • Translating evidence about the developmental origins of health and disease and the importance of preconception period in promoting women’s overall health
  • Understanding geopolitical factors influencing maternal health (e.g., food insecurity, fragile states, humanitarian crises, and rise of religious fundamentalism)
The research priorities outlined in this report hit squarely on the issues Merck for Mothers’ programs are tackling every day. We believe every woman deserves access to affordable, quality services—wherever they seek care—and remain committed to collaborating with partners to make this vision a reality for women everywhere.