Posted by: davidjolson | 06/08/2010

The power of data to save lives of women and children

This is a guest blog from Ruth Landy, a longtime advocate for women’s and children’s health, working for UNICEF, WHO, the GAVI Alliance and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The power of data to illuminate trends and save lives was on show at the Women Deliver conference today.

It started with a bravado performance by Hans Rosling, the Swedish data guru. He took   participants through a giddy time lapse display demonstrating the profound impact contraception has had in reducing family sizes around the world over the past fifty years.

Rosling’s GapMinder tool graphically demonstrated the correlation we still see between countries’ high fertility rates and their burdens of maternal mortality. Sub-Saharan African nations and Afghanistan bobbed in the top left corner of his colorful chart, indicating family sizes of five, six or more children. Near the bottom right sat China and a diverse mix of nations where small families are the norm.

“Forget the old dichotomies between developing and rich countries,” Rosling cautioned his audience, inviting them to do their own health data sleuthing on his website

The increasing sophistication of data analysis to advance women and children’s health was showcased during the launch today of the 2010 Countdown to 2015 Decade Report. It tracks progress in maternal, newborn and child survival over the past decade.

In the packed sessions you could sense participants’ thirst for new knowledge and insights to help drive future action.

The Countdown profiles 68 countries where over 95% of maternal and child deaths occur each year.  Almost half the women in these countries give birth without a skilled attendant present during childbirth. At a press conference, the Countdown researchers point to the critical need to train and deploy more health workers. An additional 700,000 midwives are needed.

There is striking progress as well, including a 28% decline in under-5 mortality between 1990 and 2008. So it’s a good news/bad news report.

The researchers are clearly excited by the power their data has to advance program planning and spearhead new policies. It’s the granularity of the data analysis combined with the big picture understanding of underlying causes which will arm maternal and child advocates with more powerful arguments.

“We have to develop a broader definition of science, to include the social, economic and political,” says the indefatigable Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, urging Women Deliver participants to set their sights ever higher.


  1. I agree that education and technology can have a tremendous impact on decreasing the prevalence of diseases and certain health issues. We must learn from our mistakes and lack of knowledge in the past, to be able to better our health in the future. By studying trends from over 68 countries Hans Rosling was able to analyze the data, showing progress in maternal, newborn and child survival rates over the past decade. Something as simple as teaching mothers to keep skin to skin contact with their newborn or the use of technology to disperse cheap incubator like sleeping bags can saves the lives of many. It is extremely important to recognize and correct maternal and child health problems at an early point in time. This can avert many complications that can lead to child morbidity and mortality and also prevent chronic problems that can continue into adulthood.

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