One of the most telling barometers for gauging the overall health of women in the world is showing an unprecedented improvement. According to a new study, the number of women dying every year from pregnancy or childbirth fell 35% to around 342,900 in 2008 from 526,300 in 1980. “The overall message, for the first time in a generation, is one of persistent and welcome progress,” wrote Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, which published the findings. The drop is being attributed to lower pregnancy rates, higher income, increased education for women, and better access to “skilled attendants,” like midwives and doctors during childbirth. But activists were left conflicted by the new numbers. While they were naturally pleased with the drop, many were concerned that the positive publicity could distract from the urgent needs that remain. “I think this is one of those instances when science and advocacy can conflict,” Dr. Horton said.