Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) aims for universal access to reproductive health care and a 75% reduction in the maternal mortality ratio by 2015.1 Unfortunately, worldwide progress is uneven—some countries are on track to reach MDG 5 (e.g., Bangladesh), some have made progress but are not on track (e.g., Rwanda), and some have made no progress (e.g., South Africa, where the maternal mortality rate (MMR) has risen since 1990).2 There are several robust, evidence-based maternal and reproductive health interventions. 1, 3-4 However, inconsistent allocation of financial resources and limited political commitment has notably impeded implementation.3-4
Media coverage of specific health issues reflects and influences public health action directed at those issues, often improving funding and political attention. The media facilitates public discourse, provides information to policy makers,5 and prioritizes certain policy issues through the process of “agenda setting”.6 In addition, media framing of an issue in a particular way can influence how the public perceives that issue, thereby increasing pressure on policy makers to act.7 For example, HIV, TB, and malaria received nearly five times greater media coverage than the other three leading childhood diseases (pneumonia, diarrhea, and measles) between 1981 and 2008.5 HIV, TB, and malaria also received correspondingly greater policy attention and research funding.5 Ultimately, policy makers' decisions on health issues are not purely evidence-based; they are also affected by social, political, economic, and electoral considerations.8
Given growing evidence of a synergy between public health action and media attention to health challenges, we analyzed the quantity and quality of newspaper coverage of maternal health in three countries with varying progress towards MDG 5 (Bangladesh, Rwanda, and South Africa).
Our study found several important differences between the three newspapers in quantity and content of articles related to MDG 5.
Differences in Volume and Frequency of Publication
The Daily Star from Bangladesh, an “on-track” country, had the greatest maternal health reporting during the study period. In comparison, South Africa's Sunday Times, from a “no progress” country, had the lowest maternal health coverage. Prior research demonstrates that the volume of media coverage on an issue is directly correlated to the likelihood of relevant policy adoption.5, 21 Similarly, our findings suggest an association between a country’s trajectory towards MDG 5 and the level of newspaper coverage on maternal health issues.
As 2015 approaches, global financial resources and political attention for MDG 5 have expanded.4 In particular, the 2010 Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health mobilized high-level political and financial commitments for MDGs 4 and 5.1 The Global Strategy focuses on the 49 lowest-income countries (including Rwanda and Bangladesh, but not South...