A cost-effectiveness study by Sue Goldie and colleagues finds that better family planning, provision of safe abortion, and improved intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care could reduce maternal mortality in India by 75% in 5 years.
Approximately one-quarter of all pregnancy- and delivery-related maternal deaths worldwide occur in India. Taking into account the costs, feasibility, and operational complexity of alternative interventions, we estimate the clinical and population-level benefits associated with strategies to improve the safety of pregnancy and childbirth in India.
Methods and Findings
Country- and region-specific data were synthesized using a computer-based model that simulates the natural history of pregnancy (both planned and unintended) and pregnancy- and childbirth-associated complications in individual women; and considers delivery location, attendant, and facility level. Model outcomes included clinical events, population measures, costs, and cost-effectiveness ratios. Separate models were adapted to urban and rural India using survey-based data (e.g., unmet need for birth spacing/limiting, facility births, skilled birth attendants). Model validation compared projected maternal indicators with empiric data. Strategies consisted of improving coverage of effective interventions that could be provided individually or packaged as integrated services, could reduce the incidence of a complication or its case fatality rate, and could include improved logistics such as reliable transport to an appropriate referral facility as well as recognition of referral need and quality of care. Increasing family planning was the most effective individual intervention to reduce pregnancy-related mortality. If over the next 5 y the unmet need for spacing and limiting births was met, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented; more than US$1 billion saved; and at least one of every two abortion-related deaths averted. Still, reductions in maternal mortality reached a threshold (∼23%–35%) without including strategies that ensured reliable access to intrapartum and emergency obstetrical care (EmOC). An integrated and stepwise approach was identified that would ultimately prevent four of five maternal deaths; this approach coupled stepwise improvements in family planning and safe abortion with consecutively implemented strategies that incrementally increased skilled attendants, improved antenatal/postpartum care, shifted births away from home, and improved recognition of referral need, transport, and availability/quality of EmOC. The strategies in this approach ranged from being cost-saving to having incremental cost-effectiveness ratios less than US$500 per year of life saved (YLS), well below India's per capita gross domestic product (GDP), a common benchmark for cost-effectiveness.
Early intensive efforts to improve family planning and control of fertility choices and to provide safe abortion, accompanied by a paced systematic and stepwise effort to scale up capacity for integrated maternal health services over several years, is as cost-effective as childhood immunization or treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. In just 5 y, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be averted through increasing contraception rates to meet women's needs for spacing and limiting births; nearly US$1.5 billion would be saved by coupling safe abortion to aggressive family planning efforts; and with stepwise investments to improve access to pregnancy-related health services and to high-quality facility-based intrapartum care, more than 75% of maternal deaths could be prevented. If accomplished over the next decade, the lives of more than one million women would be saved.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Every year, more than half a million women—most of them living in developing countries—die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. About a quarter of these “maternal” deaths occur in India. In 2005, a woman's lifetime risk of maternal death in India was 1 in 70; in the UK, it was only one in 8,200. Similarly, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR; number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) in India was 450, whereas in the UK it was eight. Faced with the enormous maternal death toll in India and other developing countries, in September 2000, the United Nations pledged, as its fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG 5), that the global MMR would be reduced to a quarter of its 1990 level by 2015. Currently, it seems unlikely that this target will be met. Between 1990 and 2005, global maternal deaths decreased by only 1% per annum instead of the 5% needed to reach MDG 5; in India, the decrease in maternal deaths between 1990 and 2005 was about 1.8% per annum.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most maternal deaths in developing countries are caused by severe bleeding after childbirth, infections soon after delivery, blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, and obstructed (difficult) labors. Consequently, experts agree that universal access to high-quality routine care during labor (“obstetric” care) and to emergency obstetrical care is needed to reduce maternal deaths. However, there is less agreement about how to adapt these “ideal recommendations” to specific situations. In developing countries with weak health systems and predominantly rural populations, it is unlikely that all women will have access to emergency obstetric care in the near future—so would beginning with improved access to family planning and to safe abortions (unsafe abortion is another major cause of maternal death) be a more achievable, more cost-effective way of reducing maternal deaths? How would family planning and safe abortion be coupled efficiently and cost-effectively with improved access to intrapartum care? In this study, the researchers investigate these questions by estimating the health and economic outcomes of various strategies to reduce maternal mortality in India.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a computer-based model that simulates women through pregnancy and childbirth to estimate the effect of different strategies (for example, increased family planning or increased access to obstetric care) on clinical outcomes (pregnancies, live births, or deaths), costs, and cost-effectiveness (the cost of saving one year of life) in India. Increased family planning was the most effective single intervention for the reduction of pregnancy-related mortality. If the current unmet need for family planning in India could be fulfilled over the next 5 years, more than 150,000 maternal deaths would be prevented, more than US$1 billion saved, and at least half of abortion-related deaths averted. However, increased family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 35% at most, so the researchers also used their model to test the effect of combinations of strategies on maternal death. They found that an integrated and stepwise approach (increased family planning and safe abortion combined with consecutively increased skilled birth attendants, improved care before and after birth, reduced home births, and improved emergency obstetric care) could eventually prevent nearly 80% of maternal deaths. All the steps in this strategy either saved money or involved an additional cost per year of life saved of less than US$500; given one suggested threshold for cost-effectiveness in India of the per capita GDP (US$1,068) per year of life saved, these strategies would be considered very cost-effective.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions used to build the model and the quality of the data fed into it. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that early intensive efforts to improve family planning and to provide safe abortion accompanied by a systematic, stepwise effort to improve integrated maternal health services could reduce maternal deaths in India by more than 75% in less than a decade. Furthermore, such a strategy would be cost-effective. Indeed, note the researchers, the cost savings from an initial focus on family planning and safe abortion provision would partly offset the resources needed to assure that every woman had access to high quality routine and emergency obstetric care. Thus, overall, these findings suggest that MDG 5 may be within reach in India, a conclusion that should help to mobilize political support for this worthy goal.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000264.
UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/The World Bank 2005 country estimates of maternal mortality
The World Health Organization also provides information on maternal health and about MDG 5 (in several languages)
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals Web site provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators, and about MDG 5.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress toward all the MDGs
Computer simulation modeling as applied to health is further discussed at the Center for Health Decision Science at Harvard University