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Bad news can be good news
Nobody wants to be ranked last in anything. But even bottom-of-the-list rankings can result in some good. “How you deliver the news is sometimes most important,” Gakidou says. “If you don’t make public health information about health, nothing will improve. Somebody has to hold governments accountable.

“Bad news doesn’t have to be received badly.”

Many ministers of health worldwide have used Murray’s information to argue for bigger budgets and changes to health-care policies. In 2000, Health Minister Frenk reformed Mexico’s system by providing health insurance to everyone, regardless of income—a move that increased access to medical care. Murray’s evaluation of the changes proved the efforts are working. By 2006, maternal mortality had fallen more than 20 percent, and Mexico was one of only seven countries to be making significant progress toward reaching the United Nations’ goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

“Chris has an extremely strong track record, and I believe in his originality and the quality of his science. This is what our field needs. Good intentions need to be backed by hard science,” the Gates Foundation’s Yamada says.

Murray seems very capable of taking the criticism that comes in the wake of his research findings and his observations about health care. He was widely quoted last summer when the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics ranked Americans 42nd in the world for life expectancy.

“Something’s wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries,” he said in the press. Americans could improve their health by improving efforts to reduce tobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar, he points out.

“The starting point is the recognition that the U.S. does not have the best health-care system,” he says. After his study was released, he received e-mail from people challenging that assertion.
One e-mail read simply: “Get a real job.”

“I kept that one,” Murray says with a grin. • Elizabeth Lowry holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and is a media relations manager for Health Sciences/UW Medicine.

See Christopher Murray on UWTV.