we know how to avoid maternal mortality (it’s 1 in 47,600 in Ireland, but 1 in 7 in Niger), it’s just that “poor, uneducated women in Africa and Asia have never been a priority either in their own countries or to donor nations.” Kristof is demanding action and aid to help save lives, advocating tried and tested methods that just need funding in order to make a real difference.
We agree that maternal mortality is a vital problem, but we don’t agree that there are “tried and tested methods that just need funding in order to make a real difference.” Our review of maternal mortality programs concludes that even though the developed world has made great progress in making childbirth safer, there have been no consistently successful programs for extending these gains to the developing world, and some prominent failures.
The observed difference between Ireland and Niger (in the quote above) indicates that there is a problem, but does not indicate that we know how to solve it. After all, Ireland has over 50x the per-person income of Niger (based on 3 data sets collected by Wikipedia), yet there is no consensus on how to promote growth and reduce poverty overall.
We don’t have the same pessimism about all causes. There are many health programs that have had repeated success in the past and likely deserve the designation of “tried and tested methods that just need funding in order to make a real difference.”
If donors are to be well-informed and live up to their potential effectiveness, it is vital not just to identify important problems, but to distinguish between areas where funding is the primary constraint to impact and areas where it isn’t.