(NEW YORK – C-FAM) A newly released research paper identifies structural flaws in United Nations (UN) data collection and analysis of global maternal health, finding that UN maternal heath policies based on the bad data are jeopardizing women's health in the developing world.
The paper, “Removing the Roadblocks from Achieving MDG 5 by Improving the Data on Maternal Mortality,” by Donna Harrison, M.D., was published by the International Organizations Research Group (IORG) [IORG is a division of C-FAM, publisher of the Friday Fax]. The paper shows how the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines to UN member states require nations to collect faulty data while at the same time pressuring them to enact UN policies such as liberalizing abortion laws based on that data.
Harrison finds that the WHO's Reproductive Health Indicators are flawed because of “quasi-legal, rather than scientifically-based definitions used to define maternal health.” Specifically, she examines WHO documents that equate “safe abortion” to legal abortion, and “unsafe abortion” to illegal abortion. Harrison said that even pro-abortion groups have taken WHO to task for its faulty definitions. She gives the example of Marie Stopes International, which claims that the abortions it performs in countries where it is illegal are safe.
WHO definitions also create confusion about the true number of deaths attributable to abortion, Harrison argues. This is because WHO guidelines require hospitals to count deaths from miscarriages (spontaneous abortions) in calculating maternal mortality, but not deaths from planned abortions. Maternal deaths due to planned, induced abortion are therefore not required to be recorded in government statistics, and the extent to which such abortions harm women is impossible to measure.
Despite this fact, WHO is promoting planned abortion as a way to improve maternal health. Citing WHO's 2006 report “Sexual and Reproductive Health: Laying the Foundation for a More Just World through Research and Action,” Harrison says that “the report details its extensive research and promotion of chemical or medical abortions in develop¬ing countries using mifepristone and misoprostol and manual vacuum aspirators, a technique used by some to perform abortions in countries where the practice is illegal under the auspices of ‘fertility regulation.’…Without accurate data collection and analysis, the effects of such changes are often not perceived until years after damage has been done and may not be reversible at that late point.”
Harrison quotes WHO researchers who admit to “adjusting the data" up to 50 percent based upon what they "expect to find” in order “to make the numbers turn out right.” To improve WHO statistics and policies Harrison offers several policy recommendations, including the collection of data “for all pregnancy outcomes,” separating the data on miscarriages and induced termination, and refining the definition of “induced abortion” to distinguish among terminations medically necessary to save the life of the mother, voluntary terminations performed in the hospital, and voluntary terminations performed in an outpatient setting.
If WHO does not improve what one World Bank researcher calls “tortuous statistical techniques and educated guessing,” Harrison concludes, “Policy decisions will be founded on political assumptions, rather than scientific fact.”
15 maggio 2009
New Report Details Fudged WHO Numbers on Maternal Mortality
By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.