Generating Political Priority for Public Health Causes in Developing Countries: Implications From a Study on Maternal Mortality

June 04, 2007

By: Jeremy Shiffman

Why do some serious health issues--such as HIV/AIDS--get considerable attention and others--such as malaria and collapsing health systems--very little? Why and under what conditions do political leaders consider an issue worthy of sustained attention, and back up that attention with money and other resources? In this CGD Brief, visiting fellow Jeremy Shiffman discusses nine factors that influenced the degree to which national leaders in five countries made one public health issue--maternal mortality--a political priority. Pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of mortality globally among adult women of reproductive age, with more than half a million deaths annually. But in some countries maternal health has become a priority and maternal deaths have fallen, while in other countries this has not yet occurred. Drawing on his comparison of these countries, Shiffman offers recommendations for public health priority-setting in developing countries. His bottom line: attaining public health goals is as much a political as it is a medical or technical challenge; success requires not only appropriate technical interventions but also effective political strategies.

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