Using the international maternal health field as a case study, we draw on ethnographic research to investigate how public health researchers and policy experts are responding to tensions between vertical and horizontal approaches to health improvement. Despite nominal support for an integrative health system approach, we found that competition for funds and international recognition pushes professionals toward vertical initiatives. We also highlight how research practices contribute to the dominance of vertical strategies and limit the success of evidence-based policymaking for strengthening health systems. Rather than support disease-and subfield-specific advocacy, the public health community urgently needs to engage in open dialogue regarding the international, academic, and donor-driven forces that drive professionals toward an exclusive interest in vertical programs.
American Journal of Public Health (2008) 98 (4) pp. 644-649 [DOI:10.2105/AJPH.2007.123117].