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Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography

Metrics: What Counts in Global Health

By
Vincanne Adams
Vincanne Adams

Vincanne Adams is Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. 

 

 

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Duke University Press
ISBN electronic:
978-0-8223-7448-0
Publication date:
2016
Book Chapter

Estimating Death: A Close Reading of Maternal Mortality Metrics in Malawi

By
Claire L. Wendland
Claire L. Wendland
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Published:
March 2016

This chapter examines the explanatory functions and lapses of the maternal mortality ratio, the most commonly used maternal health indicator. Unlike people, metrics can be tracked, graphed, compared across time and space, converted to dollars, inserted into equations, and statistically manipulated. They are politically useful, yet their political weight rests upon their claim to represent (in aggregate) actual people. The chapter juxtaposes evidence from research on maternal death in southeastern Africa with an analysis of the assumptions built into statistical models of maternal mortality. It shows how equations, like other ways of describing maternal death, are partial—and consequential—explanatory narratives.

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