A Bridge Over Troubled Water: Insights From Aid Workers Seeking to Reduce Maternal Mortality in the Developing World

Heard, Kate
Smythe, Liz
Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Each year, hundreds of thousands of women are dying needlessly in their efforts to bring a child into the world. It is a continuing tragedy on an international scale, and is at the forefront of the world’s global health agenda. Yet, despite maternal mortality reduction being the outcome of one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG5), and the sustained target of aid and research advocates for decades, women continue to die at unprecedented rates in many developing nations. So why is reducing maternal mortality such a complex goal to achieve; and what of those charged with providing the robust maternal-child health services needed to save these women’s lives? Many of the issues focused on maternal mortality to-date have been addressed in the quantitative paradigm and largely by men. By way of contrast, this critical hermeneutic research illuminates the voices of those who have been essentially unheard—expatriate health professionals who work in the aid sector—gaining insight into what it is like to be actively involved in striving to reduce maternal mortality in much of the developing world. Such a topic is politically sensitive, emotionally charged, and logistically challenging. Thus, to protect the identity of the 28 participants, and to avoid critique of any one country, this is a global study related to no one place. Its participants reside and work in all parts of the world. This thesis forefronts women’s health rights and reveals the tensions inherent in striving to reduce maternal mortality. By showing the worldviews that shape ‘what matters’ to the various players and, therefore, ‘what happens,’ the huge complexity becomes apparent. There is no quick fix. However, a way forward, post the Millennium Goal era, in an environment where there are no easy answers despite the global mandate for change, is proposed. Aid workers, those people who live within the communities they serve must be valued as the bridge between global health agendas and ‘what happens to the child-birthing woman’; for it is an aid worker, who is most likely to grasp what could work in ‘this’ situation.

Maternal mortality , Maternal death , Aid worker , MDGs , Developing world , Human rights , Women's rights
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