An article titled “Maternal Care and Global Public Health: Bombay and Manchester, 1900–1950,” by Professor of History Lisa Trivedi, was recently published in the journal Social History of Medicine, a publication of Oxford University Press.
The essay focuses on changes in thinking about the health and well-being of women by the British government, social reformers, and physicians who, in the early 20th century, realized the importance of healthy women in producing the next generation of laborers and military personnel.
In her research, Trivedi studied communications between government officials and social reformers from a time when maternal mortality was becoming recognized as a global public health concern. She also examined records from two medical facilities — St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, England, and Nowrosjee Wadia Maternity Hospital in Bombay — to explore the role of physicians in the shift to thinking about maternal mortality as a medical problem rather than a social one.
Trivedi found that, although the two cities were similar in many ways and parallel health systems were found in both, different paths were taken to reduce maternal deaths. Her research showed that investment in maternal care, and health care in general, differed as well.
The physicians at St. Mary’s Hospital came to understand that maternal mortality could be redressed through stricter regulation of medical training and the practices of midwives and physicians. This approach enabled Manchester’s physicians to increase their standing through the establishment and maintenance of better standards of care.
Wadia Hospital’s physicians viewed maternal mortality within the context of anti-colonial critique and nationalist debate, reasoning that the problem was the ‘economic’ deprivation of both India and their patients under colonial rule. Rather than advocating mothercraft or appealing to the imperial government to solve the problem, physicians in Bombay relied upon ‘native’ philanthropic initiative to remedy their patients’ undernourishment.