Birgit Kvernflaten: Meeting targets or saving lives: maternal health policy and Millennium Development Goal 5 in Nicaragua
Published in the journal Reproductive Health Matters
In support of maternal health, disease-specific and target-oriented global policy initiatives, such as in Millennium Development Goal 5, have led to a prioritisation of narrow indicators at the expense of more comprehensive approaches. In line with global policy, Nicaragua has made skilled attendants and institutionalised delivery central to its efforts to achieving MDG5 on maternal health. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Nicaragua, involving participant observation and interviews with hospital and community health workers, and women and their families, this paper critically discusses how target-oriented maternal health strategies were manifested in local realities. It shows that Nicaragua’s brigadistas (community health workers) and parteras (traditional birth attendants) have been driven to narrowing their own roles to identifying pregnant women and advocating that they have an institutional delivery as one their most important tasks, making them agents of MDG 5 target achievement. This has engendered fear among brigadistas and parteras of being held individually responsible in the event of a maternal death, creating dissatisfaction with their role and reducing their motivation. While intended to improve maternal health, the pressure to reach targets has unintended negative implications for the relationship between women, the local volunteers and the formal health system, which needs to be addressed.