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1.  Using the unmet obstetric needs indicator to map inequities in life-saving obstetric interventions at the local health care system in Kenya 
Background
Developing countries with high maternal mortality need to invest in indicators that not only provide information about how many women are dying, but also where, and what can be done to prevent these deaths. The unmet Obstetric Needs (UONs) concept provides this information. This concept was applied at district level in Kenya to assess how many women had UONs and where the women with unmet needs were located.
Methods
A facility based retrospective study was conducted in 2010 in Malindi District, Kenya. Data on pregnant women who underwent a major obstetric intervention (MOI) or died in facilities that provide comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care (EmOC) services in 2008 and 2009 were collected. The difference between the number of women who experienced life threatening obstetric complications and those who received care was quantified. The main outcome measures in the study were the magnitude of UONs and their geographical distribution.
Results
566 women in 2008 and 724 in 2009 underwent MOI. Of these, 185 (32.7%) in 2008 and 204 (28.1%) in 2009 were for Absolute Maternal Indications (AMI). The most common MOI was caesarean section (90%), commonly indicated by Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD)–narrow pelvis (27.6% in 2008; 26.1% in 2009). Based on a reference rate of 1.4%, the overall MOI for AMI rate was 1.25% in 2008 and 1.3% in 2009. In absolute terms, 22 (11%) women in 2008 and 12 (6%) in 2009, who required a life saving intervention failed to get it. Deficits in terms of unmet needs were identified in rural areas only while urban areas had rates higher than the reference rate (0.8% vs. 2.2% in 2008; 0.8% vs. 2.1% in 2009).
Conclusions
The findings, if used as a proxy to maternal mortality, suggest that rural women face higher risks of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. This indicates the need to improve priority setting towards ensuring equity in access to life saving interventions for pregnant women in underserved areas.
doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0112-4
PMCID: PMC4268791  PMID: 25495052
Kenya; Life-saving; Pregnancy; Unmet Obstetric Needs; Emergency Obstetric Care
2.  Alternative Strategies to Reduce Maternal Mortality in India: A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000264.
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.
Background
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.
Conclusions
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
Editors' Summary
Background
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.
Additional Information
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
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000264
PMCID: PMC2857650  PMID: 20421922
3.  Essential Surgery at the District Hospital: A Retrospective Descriptive Analysis in Three African Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000243.
In the first of two papers investigating surgical provision in eight district hospitals in Saharan African countries, Margaret Kruk and colleagues find low levels of surgical care provision suggesting unmet need for surgical services.
Background
Surgical conditions contribute significantly to the disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet there is an apparent neglect of surgical care as a public health intervention to counter this burden. There is increasing enthusiasm to reverse this trend, by promoting essential surgical services at the district hospital, the first point of contact for critical conditions for rural populations. This study investigated the scope of surgery conducted at district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
Methods and Findings
In a retrospective descriptive study, field data were collected from eight district hospitals in Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique using a standardized form and interviews with key informants. Overall, the scope of surgical procedures performed was narrow and included mainly essential and life-saving emergency procedures. Surgical output varied across hospitals from five to 45 major procedures/10,000 people. Obstetric operations were most common and included cesarean sections and uterine evacuations. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for 65% of general surgical procedures. The number of beds in the studied hospitals ranged from 0.2 to 1.0 per 1,000 population.
Conclusion
The findings of this study clearly indicate low levels of surgical care provision at the district level for the hospitals studied. The extent to which this translates into unmet need remains unknown although the very low proportions of live births in the catchment areas of these eight hospitals that are born by cesarean section suggest that there is a substantial unmet need for surgical services. The district hospital in the current health system in sub-Saharan Africa lends itself to feasible integration of essential surgery into the spectrum of comprehensive primary care services. It is therefore critical that the surgical capacity of the district hospital is significantly expanded; this will result in sustainable preventable morbidity and mortality.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 234 million major surgical procedures take place globally. Of these procedures, only a quarter are performed in low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of the world's population lives. Put another way, in high-income countries, 10,110 people out of every 100,000 have surgery each year on average compared to only 295 people out of every 100,000 in low- and middle-income countries. Yet conditions that need surgery (including complications of childbirth and traumatic injuries) are common in developing countries and contribute significantly to the burden of disease in these countries. Various organizations are working to reduce this burden by improving emergency and essential surgical care in developing countries. For example, the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group (BESG), which includes experts in surgery, anesthesia, obstetrics (the branch of medicine that cares for women during pregnancy and childbirth), and health policy from several African countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US, aims to increase access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
One way to improve access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa would be to promote the provision of essential surgical services at district hospitals. These hospitals are the first referral facilities for people living in rural areas. Traditionally, patients receive much of their primary health care at these facilities but are referred to secondary and tertiary health care facilities (regional and national referral hospitals, respectively) for more specialized care. However, many surgical conditions—in particular, obstetric emergencies—need to be treated at district hospitals if lives are to be saved. Unfortunately, very little is known about the range and volume of surgical procedures currently undertaken in district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and such information is needed before programs can be developed to increase access to surgical services at these facilities. In this retrospective, descriptive study, the researchers (some of whom are part of the BESG) investigate the scope of surgery undertaken in district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained recent data on the surgical procedures done at two representative district hospitals each in Tanzania and in Mozambique and four representative district hospitals in Uganda by examining hospital records and by interviewing administrators. The observed range of surgical procedures performed in these hospitals was narrow, they report, consisting mainly of essential and life-saving emergency procedures such as cesarean sections for the delivery of babies and wound-related procedures. Obstetric procedures accounted for around half of all surgical procedures in all the hospitals except one Ugandan hospital. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for nearly two-thirds of general surgical procedures. The surgical output across the hospitals varied from five to 45 major procedures per 10,000 people in the population (average 25 operations per 10,000 people). Across the hospitals, between one and 17 cesarean sections and between 0.5 and seven hernia repairs were performed per 10,000 people in the population. Finally, the researchers used their data and WHO estimates of the population need for cesarean sections to estimate that in the two Tanzanian district hospitals, between half and two-thirds of women that needed a cesarean section did not have access to this life-saving procedure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there are low levels of provision of surgical care in district hospitals in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda. Further studies are needed to confirm that these findings are generalizable to district hospitals elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and to quantify the extent to which this low level of surgical care translates into unmet needs. Limitations of the study include a lack of information on outcomes, on referral of patients to higher-level facilities, and on how many of the surgical procedures undertaken at these hospitals dealt with traumatic injuries. Nevertheless, the information collected in this study, together with that in a separate paper that investigates the availability of health workers and funding for the provision of essential surgery in district hospitals in these three countries, suggests that the surgical capacity of district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa needs to be improved. If this goal can be achieved, suggest the researchers, it should avert many illnesses and deaths in this poor region of the world.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243.
The availability of health workers and funding for surgery in the same hospitals is investigated in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Margaret E. Kruk et al.
Information on the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group is available
WHO's Global initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care plans to take essential emergency, basic surgery and anesthesia skills to health care staff in low- and middle-income countries around the world; WHO also has a page describing the importance of emergency and essential surgery in primary health care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243
PMCID: PMC2834708  PMID: 20231871
4.  Impact of Community-Based Maternal Health Workers on Coverage of Essential Maternal Health Interventions among Internally Displaced Communities in Eastern Burma: The MOM Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000317.
Mullany and colleagues report outcomes from a project involving delivery of community-based maternal health services in eastern Burma, and report substantial increases in coverage of care.
Background
Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care is poor throughout Burma, but is particularly lacking among internally displaced communities in the eastern border regions. In such settings, innovative strategies for accessing vulnerable populations and delivering basic public health interventions are urgently needed.
Methods
Four ethnic health organizations from the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions collaborated on a pilot project between 2005 and 2008 to examine the feasibility of an innovative three-tiered network of community-based providers for delivery of maternal health interventions in the complex emergency setting of eastern Burma. Two-stage cluster-sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) conducted before and after program implementation enabled evaluation of changes in coverage of essential antenatal care interventions, attendance at birth by those trained to manage complications, postnatal care, and family planning services.
Results
Among 2,889 and 2,442 women of reproductive age in 2006 and 2008, respectively, population characteristics (age, marital status, ethnic distribution, literacy) were similar. Compared to baseline, women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period were substantially more likely to receive antenatal care (71.8% versus 39.3%, prevalence rate ratio [PRR] = 1.83 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.64–2.04]) and specific interventions such as urine testing (42.4% versus 15.7%, PRR = 2.69 [95% CI 2.69–3.54]), malaria screening (55.9% versus 21.9%, PRR = 2.88 [95% CI 2.15–3.85]), and deworming (58.2% versus 4.1%, PRR = 14.18 [95% CI 10.76–18.71]. Postnatal care visits within 7 d doubled. Use of modern methods to avoid pregnancy increased from 23.9% to 45.0% (PRR = 1.88 [95% CI 1.63–2.17]), and unmet need for contraception was reduced from 61.7% to 40.5%, a relative reduction of 35% (95% CI 28%–40%). Attendance at birth by those trained to deliver elements of emergency obstetric care increased almost 10-fold, from 5.1% to 48.7% (PRR = 9.55 [95% CI 7.21–12.64]).
Conclusions
Coverage of maternal health interventions and higher-level care at birth was substantially higher during the project period. The MOM Project's focus on task-shifting, capacity building, and empowerment at the community level might serve as a model approach for similarly constrained settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care (including family planning) is particularly bad in war-torn countries. In Burma, for example, where there have been decades of conflict between the military junta and ethnic minority resistance groups, the maternal mortality rate (the number of deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births) is around 380, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, the maternal mortality rate is around 1,200. In an effort to improve access to maternal health services in these regions, community-based organizations in Burma, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, and the Global Health Access Program undertook an innovative pilot project—the Mobile Obstetric Medics (MOM) project—between 2005 and 2008. Local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), postnatal care, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand. These “maternal health workers” then returned to Burma where they trained local health workers and traditional birth attendants to provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before the MOM project started, nearly 3,000 women living in the study communities were surveyed to evaluate the coverage of essential antenatal care interventions such as urine testing for infections during pregnancy, screening for malaria, and deworming; Urinary tract infections, malaria, and hookworm infections all increase the risk of poor maternal and neonatal outcomes. The preproject survey also evaluated how many births were attended by people able to deal with complications, and the provision of postnatal care and family planning services. In this study, the researchers undertake a similar postproject survey to evaluate the impact of MOM on the coverage of essential maternal health interventions among internally displaced communities in eastern Burma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2008 and December 2008, trained survey workers asked nearly 2,500 ever-married women of reproductive age from the project's study communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. The results of the postproject survey were then compared with those of the “baseline,” preproject survey. The general characteristics (age, marital status, ethnicity, and literacy) of the women included in the two surveys were very similar. However, 71.8% of the women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period of the MOM project had received antenatal care compared to only 39.3% of women surveyed at baseline. Similarly, among the women questioned during the postproject survey, 42.4% had had their urine tested and 55.9% had been screened for malaria during pregnancy compared to only 15.7% and 21.9%, respectively, of the women questioned in the preproject survey. Deworming had increased from 4.1% to 58.2% during the project, postnatal care visits within 7 days had doubled, and attendance at birth by people trained to deal with obstetric emergencies had increased 10-fold from 5.1% to 48.7%. Finally, the use of modern contraception methods (slow-release contraceptives, oral contraceptives, and condoms) had increased from 23.9% to 45.0%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a substantial improvement in access to maternal and reproductive health care in the study communities during the MOM project. However, because the study compared two independent groups of women before and after implementation of the MOM project rather than concurrently comparing groups of women who did and did not receive the services provided by the MOM project, this study does not prove that the MOM approach was the cause of the changes in the coverage of essential maternal health care. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the type of approach used in the MOM project—the expansion of interventions (including components of emergency obstetric care) delivered outside healthcare facilities by community-based providers—might be an effective way to deliver maternal and reproductive health services in other parts of Burma and in other places where there are ongoing conflicts.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317.
More information about the MOM project is available in previous publications by the researchers in PLoS Medicine, in Reproductive Health Matters, and in Social Science and Medicine
Additional resources are also available on the MOM Project
The Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium provides information on how conflicts affect reproductive health
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations, including those that affect maternal health in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and maternal and reproductive health during conflicts and among refugees (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317
PMCID: PMC2914639  PMID: 20689805
5.  Human Resource and Funding Constraints for Essential Surgery in District Hospitals in Africa: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000242.
In the second of two papers investigating surgical provision in eight district hospitals in Saharan African countries, Margaret Kruk and colleagues describe the range of providers of surgical care and anesthesia and estimate the related costs.
Background
There is a growing recognition that the provision of surgical services in low-income countries is inadequate to the need. While constrained health budgets and health worker shortages have been blamed for the low rates of surgery, there has been little empirical data on the providers of surgery and cost of surgical services in Africa. This study described the range of providers of surgical care and anesthesia and estimated the resources dedicated to surgery at district hospitals in three African countries.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional survey of data from eight district hospitals in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda. There were no specialist surgeons or anesthetists in any of the hospitals. Most of the health workers were nurses (77.5%), followed by mid-level providers (MLPs) not trained to provide surgical care (7.8%), and MLPs trained to perform surgical procedures (3.8%). There were one to six medical doctors per hospital (4.2% of clinical staff). Most major surgical procedures were performed by doctors (54.6%), however over one-third (35.9%) were done by MLPs. Anesthesia was mainly provided by nurses (39.4%). Most of the hospital expenditure was related to staffing. Of the total operating costs, only 7% to 14% was allocated to surgical care, the majority of which was for obstetric surgery. These costs represent a per capita expenditure on surgery ranging from US$0.05 to US$0.14 between the eight hospitals.
Conclusion
African countries have adopted different policies to ensure the provision of surgical care in their respective district hospitals. Overall, the surgical output per capita was very low, reflecting low staffing ratios and limited expenditures for surgery. We found that most surgical and anesthesia services in the three countries in the study were provided by generalist doctors, MLPs, and nurses. Although more information is needed to estimate unmet need for surgery, increasing the funds allocated to surgery, and, in the absence of trained doctors and surgeons, formalizing the training of MLPs appears to be a pragmatic and cost-effective way to make basic surgical services available in underserved areas.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infectious diseases remain the major killers in developing countries, but traumatic injuries, complications of childbirth, and other conditions that need surgery are important contributors to the overall burden of disease in these countries. Unfortunately, the provision of surgical services in low- and middle-income countries is often insufficient. There are many fewer operations per a head of population in developing countries than in developed countries, essential operations such as cesarean sections for complicated deliveries are not always available, and elective operations such as male and female sterilization can be difficult to obtain. Lack of funding for surgical procedures and shortages of trained health workers have often been blamed for the low rates of surgery in developing countries. For example, anesthesiologists (doctors who are trained to give anesthetics and other pain-relieving agents) and trained anesthetists (usually nurses and technicians) are rare in many African countries, as are surgeons and obstetricians (doctors who look after women during pregnancy and childbirth). To make matters worse, these specialists often work in tertiary referral hospitals in large cities. In district hospitals, which provide most of the primary health care needs of rural populations, basic surgical care is usually provided by “mid-level health care providers” (MLPs)—individuals with a level of training between that of nurses and physicians.
Why Was This Study Done?
Various organizations are currently working to improve emergency and essential surgical care in developing countries. For example, the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group (BESG) seeks to define, quantify, and address the problem of unmet surgical needs in sub-Saharan Africa. Importantly, however, before any programs can be introduced to improve access to surgical services in developing countries, better baseline data on existing surgical services needs to be collected—most of the available information on these services is anecdotal. In this study, the researchers (most of whom are members of the BESG) investigate the provision of surgical procedures and anesthesia in district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries and estimate the costs of surgery performed in the same hospitals.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected recent data on the number of doctors, MLPs, and nurses in two district hospitals in Tanzania and in Mozambique, and from four district hospitals in Uganda and information on each hospital's expenditure. Most of the health workers in these hospitals (which care for 3 million people between them) were nurses (77.5%), followed by MLPs not trained to provide surgical care (7.8%), and MLPs trained to provide surgical care (3.8%). The hospitals had between one and six medical doctors each (28 across all the hospitals), but there were no trained surgeons or anesthesiologists posted at any of the hospitals. About half of the major surgical procedures undertaken at these hospitals were performed by doctors but more than a third were done by MLPs although the exact pattern of personnel involved in surgery varied among the three countries. Anesthesia was mostly provided by nurses and doctors; again the pattern of anesthesia provision varied among countries and hospitals. Only 7%–14% of overall hospital expenditure was allocated to surgical care and most of this allocation was used for obstetric services. Finally, the researchers estimate that, on the basis of district populations, the district hospitals spent between US$0.05 and US$0.14 per head on surgical services.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in the district hospitals investigated in this study, physicians, MLPs, and nurses provide most of the surgical care. Furthermore, although all the hospitals in the study provide some surgical care, it accounts for a small part of the hospitals' overall operating costs. These findings may not be generalizable to other district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and provide no information about the unmet needs for surgical care. Nevertheless, these findings and those of a separate paper that investigates the range and volume of surgical procedures undertaken in the same district hospitals provide a valuable baseline for planning the expansion of health care services in Africa. They also suggest that increasing the funds allocated to surgery and formalizing the training of MLPs might be a cost-effective way of increasing access to surgical care in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000242.
The range and volume of surgery in the same hospitals is investigated in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Moses Galukande et al.
Information on the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group is available
WHO's Global initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care plans to take essential emergency, basic surgery and anesthesia skills to health care staff in low- and middle-income countries around the world; WHO also has a page describing the importance of emergency and essential surgery in primary health care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000242
PMCID: PMC2834706  PMID: 20231869
6.  An Autopsy Study of Maternal Mortality in Mozambique: The Contribution of Infectious Diseases 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(2):e44.
Background
Maternal mortality is a major health problem concentrated in resource-poor regions. Accurate data on its causes using rigorous methods is lacking, but is essential to guide policy-makers and health professionals to reduce this intolerable burden. The aim of this study was to accurately describe the causes of maternal death in order to contribute to its reduction, in one of the regions of the world with the highest maternal mortality ratios.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective study between October 2002 and December 2004 on the causes of maternal death in a tertiary-level referral hospital in Maputo, Mozambique, using complete autopsies with histological examination. HIV detection was done by virologic and serologic tests, and malaria was diagnosed by histological and parasitological examination. During 26 mo there were 179 maternal deaths, of which 139 (77.6%) had a complete autopsy and formed the basis of this analysis. Of those with test results, 65 women (52.8%) were HIV-positive. Obstetric complications accounted for 38.2% of deaths; haemorrhage was the most frequent cause (16.6%). Nonobstetric conditions accounted for 56.1% of deaths; HIV/AIDS, pyogenic bronchopneumonia, severe malaria, and pyogenic meningitis were the most common causes (12.9%, 12.2%, 10.1% and 7.2% respectively). Mycobacterial infection was found in 12 (8.6%) maternal deaths.
Conclusions
In this tertiary hospital in Mozambique, infectious diseases accounted for at least half of all maternal deaths, even though effective treatment is available for the four leading causes, HIV/AIDS, pyogenic bronchopneumonia, severe malaria, and pyogenic meningitis. These observations highlight the need to implement effective and available prevention tools, such as intermittent preventive treatment and insecticide-treated bed-nets for malaria, antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS, or vaccines and effective antibiotics for pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases. Deaths due to obstetric causes represent a failure of health-care systems and require urgent improvement.
Clara Menendez and colleagues analyze 139 complete autopsies following maternal deaths in Maputo, Mozambique and find a predominance of infectious and preventable causes.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Every year, half a million women—many of them living in developing countries—die during pregnancy or childbirth or within a few weeks of delivery. (The term “maternal deaths” is used to designate such deaths.) For women living in sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is particularly grim. Half of all maternal deaths occur in this region. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR)—the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births—in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 1,000; in industrialized countries it is 8. The lifetime risk of maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 22; in industrialized countries it is 1 in 8,000. Faced with the magnitude of the global maternal death toll, in September 2000 the United Nations pledged, as its fifth Millennium Development Goal, 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. In sub-Saharan Africa the annual reduction was even less—0.1% per annum.
Why Was This Study Done?
One reason for this slow progress is that public-health professionals in developing countries rarely have accurate data about the causes of maternal death, information that they need to guide their efforts to reduce these deaths. A detailed examination of the body after death (a medical autopsy) is the only sure way to ascertain the causes of maternal death, but in most developing countries, clinical records and verbal autopsies (asking relatives about the circumstances of the mother's death) are the main sources of these data and neither source is optimally accurate. The currently available information indicates that birth (obstetric) complications are the most frequent causes of maternal death in developing countries, in particular, hemorrhage (uncontrollable bleeding) after the baby is born. However, little is known about the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (which is worst in Sub-Saharan Africa), malaria, or other infectious diseases on maternal deaths. In this study, the researchers use complete autopsies to determine the causes of maternal death in the Maputo Central Hospital, Mozambique, a tertiary-level hospital to which women with high-risk pregnancies are referred for specialized care.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2002 and December 2004, there were 179 maternal deaths in the Maputo Central Hospital and 31,135 live births, corresponding to a ratio of 874 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. (Because the hospital was a referral center, this ratio would not be expected to reflect the actual MMR for the general population of the Maputo area.) Complete autopsies were done on 139 of the women, HIV infection was measured using standard tests, and malaria was diagnosed by looking for parasites and malaria-associated changes in postmortem samples. Of these 139 women, just over one-third died because of obstetric complications; hemorrhage was the most common cause of death (one in six maternal deaths). The commonest nonobstetric causes of maternal death were HIV/AIDS- related conditions, including infections and cancers (about 1 in 8 maternal deaths; about half the women in the study were HIV positive). Other common causes were pyogenic (pus-forming) bacterial infections of the lungs and brain, and malaria. Together, these infectious diseases accounted for nearly half of the maternal deaths.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that infectious diseases account for a large proportion of maternal deaths at Maputo Central Hospital and identify which obstetric complications are responsible for most maternal deaths in this setting. They may not, however, accurately reflect the causes of maternal death elsewhere in Mozambique. For example, maternal deaths from some obstetric complications may be over-represented in this study because women at risk of these complications would have been referred to this hospital. Conversely, the proportion of women dying from hemorrhage may be higher in the community because this complication usually happens shortly after birth, leaving little time for women to reach a hospital for treatment. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the implementation of effective measures to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and infections with pyogenic bacteria, together with improvements in health services for obstetric complications, should greatly reduce the maternal death toll in Mozambique and perhaps in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050044.
UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund) provides information on maternal mortality including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/The World Bank) estimates of maternal mortality for 2005 by country, and an article on maternal mortality in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique
More information on the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/The World Bank estimates of maternal mortality in 2005
The UK Department for International Development provides information about Millenium Development Goal 5: the improvement of maternal health
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a page on pregnancy-related deaths (in English and Spanish)
The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health provides information on maternal deaths (in English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese)
The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) focuses on improving conditions for women worldwide, especially those in poverty
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050044
PMCID: PMC2245982  PMID: 18288887
7.  Exploring inequalities in access to and use of maternal health services in South Africa 
Background
South Africa’s maternal mortality rate (625 deaths/100,000 live births) is high for a middle-income country, although over 90% of pregnant women utilize maternal health services. Alongside HIV/AIDS, barriers to Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care currently impede the country’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. While health system barriers to obstetric care have been well documented, “patient-oriented” barriers have been neglected. This article explores affordability, availability and acceptability barriers to obstetric care in South Africa from the perspectives of women who had recently used, or attempted to use, these services.
Methods
A mixed-method study design combined 1,231 quantitative exit interviews with sixteen qualitative in-depth interviews with women (over 18) in two urban and two rural health sub-districts in South Africa. Between June 2008 and September 2009, information was collected on use of, and access to, obstetric services, and socioeconomic and demographic details. Regression analysis was used to test associations between descriptors of the affordability, availability and acceptability of services, and demographic and socioeconomic predictor variables. Qualitative interviews were coded deductively and inductively using ATLAS ti.6. Quantitative and qualitative data were integrated into an analysis of access to obstetric services and related barriers.
Results
Access to obstetric services was impeded by affordability, availability and acceptability barriers. These were unequally distributed, with differences between socioeconomic groups and geographic areas being most important. Rural women faced the greatest barriers, including longest travel times, highest costs associated with delivery, and lowest levels of service acceptability, relative to urban residents. Negative provider-patient interactions, including staff inattentiveness, turning away women in early-labour, shouting at patients, and insensitivity towards those who had experienced stillbirths, also inhibited access and compromised quality of care.
Conclusions
To move towards achieving its MDGs, South Africa cannot just focus on increasing levels of obstetric coverage, but must systematically address the access constraints facing women during pregnancy and delivery. More needs to be done to respond to these “patient-oriented” barriers by improving how and where services are provided, particularly in rural areas and for poor women, as well as altering the attitudes and actions of health care providers.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-120
PMCID: PMC3467180  PMID: 22613037
8.  Using audit to enhance quality of maternity care in resource limited countries: lessons learnt from rural Tanzania 
Background
Although clinical audit is an important instrument for quality care improvement, the concept has not yet been adequately taken on board in rural settings in most resource limited countries where the problem of maternal mortality is immense. Maternal mortality and morbidity audit was established at Saint Francis Designated District Hospital (SFDDH) in rural Tanzania in order to generate information upon which to base interventions.
Methods
Methods are informed by the principles of operations research. An audit system was established, all patients fulfilling the inclusion criteria for maternal mortality and severe morbidity were reviewed and selected cases were audited from October 2008 to July 2010. The causes and underlying factors were identified and strategic action plans for improvement were developed and implemented.
Results
There were 6572 deliveries and 363 severe maternal morbidities of which 36 women died making institutional case fatality rate of 10%. Of all morbidities 341 (94%) had at least one area of substandard care. Patients, health workers and administration related substandard care factors were identified in 50% - 61% of women with severe morbidities. Improving responsiveness to obstetric emergencies, capacity building of the workforce for health care, referral system improvement and upgrading of health centres located in hard to reach areas to provide comprehensive emergency obstetric care (CEmOC) were proposed and implemented as a result of audit.
Conclusions
Our findings indicate that audit can be implemented in rural resource limited settings and suggest that the vast majority of maternal mortalities and severe morbidities can be averted even where resources are limited if strategic interventions are implemented.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-94
PMCID: PMC3226647  PMID: 22088168
9.  Access To Essential Maternal Health Interventions and Human Rights Violations among Vulnerable Communities in Eastern Burma 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e242.
Background
Health indicators are poor and human rights violations are widespread in eastern Burma. Reproductive and maternal health indicators have not been measured in this setting but are necessary as part of an evaluation of a multi-ethnic pilot project exploring strategies to increase access to essential maternal health interventions. The goal of this study is to estimate coverage of maternal health services prior to this project and associations between exposure to human rights violations and access to such services.
Methods and Findings
Selected communities in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma that were accessible to community-based organizations operating from Thailand were surveyed to estimate coverage of reproductive, maternal, and family planning services, and to assess exposure to household-level human rights violations within the pilot-project target population. Two-stage cluster sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) documented access to essential antenatal care interventions, skilled attendance at birth, postnatal care, and family planning services. Mid-upper arm circumference, hemoglobin by color scale, and Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia by rapid diagnostic dipstick were measured. Exposure to human rights violations in the prior 12 mo was recorded. Between September 2006 and January 2007, 2,914 surveys were conducted. Eighty-eight percent of women reported a home delivery for their last pregnancy (within previous 5 y). Skilled attendance at birth (5.1%), any (39.3%) or ≥ 4 (16.7%) antenatal visits, use of an insecticide-treated bed net (21.6%), and receipt of iron supplements (11.8%) were low. At the time of the survey, more than 60% of women had hemoglobin level estimates ≤ 11.0 g/dl and 7.2% were Pf positive. Unmet need for contraceptives exceeded 60%. Violations of rights were widely reported: 32.1% of Karenni households reported forced labor and 10% of Karen households had been forced to move. Among Karen households, odds of anemia were 1.51 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.95–2.40) times higher among women reporting forced displacement, and 7.47 (95% CI 2.21–25.3) higher among those exposed to food security violations. The odds of receiving no antenatal care services were 5.94 (95% CI 2.23–15.8) times higher among those forcibly displaced.
Conclusions
Coverage of basic maternal health interventions is woefully inadequate in these selected populations and substantially lower than even the national estimates for Burma, among the lowest in the region. Considerable political, financial, and human resources are necessary to improve access to maternal health care in these communities.
Luke Mullany and colleagues examine access to essential maternal health interventions and human rights violations within vulnerable communities in eastern Burma.
Editors' Summary
Background.
After decades of military rule, Burma has one of the world's worst health-care systems and high levels of ill health. For example, maternal mortality (deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes) is around 360 per 100,000 live births in Burma, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44 per 100,000 live births. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon states in eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, maternal mortality is thought to be about 1000 per 100, 000 live births. In an effort to improve access to life-saving maternal health interventions in these states, Burmese community-based health organizations, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the Global Health Access Program in the USA, and the Mae Tao Clinic (a health-worker training center in Thailand) recently set up the Mobile Obstetric Maternal Health Workers (MOM) Project. In this pilot project, local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, emergency obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), blood transfusion, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic. Back in Burma, these maternal health workers trained additional local health workers and traditional birth attendants. All these individuals now provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
The effectiveness of the MOM project can only be evaluated if accurate baseline information on women's access to maternal health-care services is available. This information is also needed to ensure the wise use of scarce health-care resources. However, very little is known about reproductive and maternal health in eastern Burma. In this study, the researchers analyze the information on women's access to reproductive and maternal health-care services that was collected during the initial field implementation stage of the MOM project. In addition, they analyze whether exposure to enforced village relocations and other human rights violations affect access to maternal health-care services.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Trained survey workers asked nearly 3000 ever-married women of reproductive age in the selected communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. They measured each woman's mid-upper arm circumference (an indicator of nutritional status) and tested them for anemia (iron deficiency) and infection with malaria parasites (a common cause of anemia in tropical countries). Finally, they asked the women about any recent violations of their human rights such as forced labour or relocation. Nearly 90% of the women reported a home delivery for their last baby. A skilled attendant was present at only one in 20 births and only one in three women had any antenatal care. One third of the women received postnatal care and only a third said they had access to effective contraceptives. Few women had received iron supplements or had used insecticide-treated bednets to avoid malaria-carrying mosquitos. Consequently, more than half the women were anemic and 7.2% were infected with malaria parasites. Many women also showed signs of poor nutrition. Finally, human rights violations were widely reported by the women. In Karen, the region containing most of the study communities, forced relocation tripled the risk of women developing anemia and greatly decreased their chances of receiving any antenatal care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that access to maternal health-care interventions is extremely limited and that poor nutrition, anemia, and malaria, all of which increase the risk of pregnancy complications, are widespread in the communities in the MOM project. Because these communities had some basic health services and access to training in Thailand before the project started, these results probably underestimate the lack of access to maternal health-care services in eastern Burma. Nevertheless, it is clear that considerable political, financial, and human resources will be needed to improve maternal health in this region. Finally, the findings also reveal a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. Thus, the scale of human rights violations will need to be considered when evaluating programs designed to improve maternal health in Burma and in other places where there is ongoing conflict.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Macaya Douoguih
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao Clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
More information about the MOM project is available in a previous publication by the researchers
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and ongoing efforts to save mothers' lives around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242
PMCID: PMC2605890  PMID: 19108601
10.  A population based survey in Ethiopia using questionnaire as proxy to estimate obstetric fistula prevalence: results from demographic and health survey 
Reproductive Health  2013;10:14.
Background
Obstetric Fistula (OF) remains a major public health problem in areas where unattended obstructed labor is common and maternal mortality is high. Obstetric Fistula was able to be prevented, treated and eradicated in high-income countries; however, it still affects many women in low-income countries. To our knowledge, only few studies have described the prevalence and factors associated with Obstetric Fistula in Ethiopia in population-based surveys.
Objective
The aim of this study is to describe the prevalence and factors associated with Obstetric Fistula in Ethiopia.
Methods
The study used women’s dataset from the 2005 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey. The survey sample was designed to provide national, urban/rural, and regional representative estimates of key health and demographic indicators. The sample was selected using a two-stage stratified sampling process. OF was measured using questionnaire. The data is analyzed using descriptive and multivariate statistical methods to determine factors associated with Obstetric Fistula.
Results
A total of 14,070 women of reproductive age group were included in the survey. Of which 23.2% ever heard of obstetric fistula. Among women who ever given birth (9,713), some 103 (1.06%, 95% CI; 0.89%-1.31%) experienced obstetric fistula in their lifetime, which means 10.6 per 1000 women who ever gave birth. It is estimated that in Ethiopia nearly 142,387 (95% CI: 115,080-169,694) of obstetric fistula patients exist. Those women who are circumcised had higher odds of reporting the condition (Chi square = 4.41, p-value = 0.036). In the logistic regression model women from rural areas were less likely to report obstetric fistula than their urban counterparts (OR = 0.21, 95% CI: 0.06-0.69). Women who gave birth 10 or more had higher odds of developing obstetric fistula than women with 1-4 child (OR = 4.34; 95% CI; 1.29-14.55).
Conclusions
Obstetric fistula is a major public and reproductive health concern in Ethiopia. This calls for increased access to emergency obstetric care, expansion of fistula repair service and active finding of women with OF with campaigns of ending fistula is recommended.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-10-14
PMCID: PMC3598195  PMID: 23432944
11.  The Influence of Distance and Level of Care on Delivery Place in Rural Zambia: A Study of Linked National Data in a Geographic Information System 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000394.
Using linked national data in a geographic information system system, Sabine Gabrysch and colleagues investigate the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia.
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality could be reduced if all women delivered in settings where skilled attendants could provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC) if complications arise. Research on determinants of skilled attendance at delivery has focussed on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment, in part due to a lack of suitable data. The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia, and to compare their population impact to that of other important determinants.
Methods and Findings
Using a geographic information system (GIS), we linked national household data from the Zambian Demographic and Health Survey 2007 with national facility data from the Zambian Health Facility Census 2005 and calculated straight-line distances. Health facilities were classified by whether they provided comprehensive EmOC (CEmOC), basic EmOC (BEmOC), or limited or substandard services. Multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the influence of distance to care and level of care on place of delivery (facility or home) for 3,682 rural births, controlling for a wide range of confounders. Only a third of rural Zambian births occurred at a health facility, and half of all births were to mothers living more than 25 km from a facility of BEmOC standard or better. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of facility delivery decreased by 29% (95% CI, 14%–40%). Independently, each step increase in level of care led to 26% higher odds of facility delivery (95% CI, 7%–48%). The population impact of poor geographic access to EmOC was at least of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
Conclusions
Lack of geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor explaining why most rural deliveries in Zambia still occur at home without skilled care. Addressing geographic and quality barriers is crucial to increase service use and to lower maternal and perinatal mortality. Linking datasets using GIS has great potential for future research and can help overcome the neglect of health system factors in research and policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Approximately 360,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, of which more than 200,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman's lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy remains as high as 1 in 31 (compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world). The target of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. Most maternal and neonatal deaths in low-income countries could be prevented if all women delivered their babies in settings where skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) were available and could provide emergency obstetric care to both mothers and babies in case of complications. Yet every year roughly 50 million women give birth at home without skilled care.
Why was this study done?
The likelihood of a woman giving birth in a health facility under the care of a skilled birth attendant depends on many factors. These include characteristics of the mother and her family, such as education level and household wealth, and aspects of the health service environment—distance to the nearest health facility and the quality of care provided at that facility, for example. However, research to date has typically focused on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment on choice of delivery place, largely because suitable data was not available. In this study in rural Zambia, the researchers aimed to quantify the effects of the health service environment, namely distance to health care and the level of care provided, on pregnant women's use of health facilities for giving birth. To put these factors in context, the researchers compared the impact of distance to quality care on place of delivery to that of other important factors, such as poverty and education.
What did the researchers do and find?
Using a geographic information system (GIS), the researchers linked national household data (from the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey) with national facility data (from the 2005 Zambian Health Facility Census) and calculated straight-line distances between women's villages and health facilities. Health facilities were classified as providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care, basic emergency obstetric care, or limited or substandard services by using reported capability to perform a certain number of the eight emergency obstetric care signal functions: injectable antibiotics, injectable oxytocics, injectable anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, manual removal of retained products, assisted vaginal delivery, cesarean section, and blood transfusion, as well as criteria on staffing, opening hours and referral capacity. The researchers used data from 3,682 rural births and multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses to investigate whether distance to, and level of care at the closest delivery facility influence place of delivery (health facility or home), keeping other influential factors constant.
The researchers found that only a third of births in rural Zambia occurred at a health facility, and half of all mothers who gave birth lived more than 25 km from a health facility that provided basic emergency obstetric services. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of a women giving birth in a health facility decreased by 29%. Independently, each step increase in the level of emergency obstetric care provided at the closest delivery facility led to an increased likelihood (26% higher odds) of a woman delivering her baby at a facility. The researchers estimated that the impact of poor geographic access to emergency obstetric services was of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study suggest that poor geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor in explaining why most women in rural Zambia still deliver their babies at home without skilled care. Therefore, in order to increase the number of women delivering in health facilities and thus reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, it is crucial to address the geographic and quality barriers to delivery service use. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study—linking datasets using GIS— has great potential for future research as it can help explore the influence of health system factors also for other health problems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394.
Information about emergency obstetric care is provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Various topics on maternal health are presented by WHO, WHO Regional Office Africa, by UNPFA, and UNICEF
WHO offers detailed information about MDG5
Family Care International offers more information about maternal and neonatal health
The Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) provides information on needs assessments of emergency obstetric and newborn care
Countdown to 2015 tracks progress in maternal, newborn, and child survival
WHO provides free online viewing of BBC Fight for Life videos describing delivery experiences in different countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394
PMCID: PMC3026699  PMID: 21283606
12.  Private health care coverage and increased risk of obstetric intervention 
Background
When clinically indicated, common obstetric interventions can greatly improve maternal and neonatal outcomes. However, variation in intervention rates suggests that obstetric practice may not be solely driven by case criteria.
Methods
Differences in obstetric intervention rates by private and public status in Ireland were examined using nationally representative hospital discharge data. A retrospective cohort study was performed on childbirth hospitalisations occurring between 2005 and 2010. Multivariate logistic regression analysis with correction for the relative risk was conducted to determine the risk of obstetric intervention (caesarean delivery, operative vaginal delivery, induction of labour or episiotomy) by private or public status while adjusting for obstetric risk factors.
Results
403,642 childbirth hospitalisations were reviewed; approximately one-third of maternities (30.2%) were booked privately. After controlling for relevant obstetric risk factors, women with private coverage were more likely to have an elective caesarean delivery (RR: 1.48; 95% CI: 1.45-1.51), an emergency caesarean delivery (RR: 1.13; 95% CI: 1.12-1.16) and an operative vaginal delivery (RR: 1.25; 95% CI: 1.22-1.27). Compared to women with public coverage who had a vaginal delivery, women with private coverage were 40% more likely to have an episiotomy (RR: 1.40; 95% CI: 1.38-1.43).
Conclusions
Irrespective of obstetric risk factors, women who opted for private maternity care were significantly more likely to have an obstetric intervention. To better understand both clinical and non-clinical dynamics, future studies of examining health care coverage status and obstetric intervention would ideally apply mixed-method techniques.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-13
PMCID: PMC3898095  PMID: 24418254
Caesarean section; Vacuum extraction; Obstetric forceps; Induction of labour; Episiotomy; Pregnancy
13.  Incidence and predictors of severe obstetric morbidity: case-control study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2001;322(7294):1089-1094.
Objective
To estimate the incidence and predictors of severe obstetric morbidity.
Design
Development of definitions of severe obstetric morbidity by literature review. Case-control study from a defined delivery population with four randomly selected pregnant women as controls for every case.
Setting
All 19 maternity units within the South East Thames region and six neighbouring hospitals caring for pregnant women from the region between 1 March 1997 and 28 February 1998.
Participants
48 865 women who delivered during the time frame.
Results
There were 588 cases of severe obstetric morbidity giving an incidence of 12.0/1000 deliveries (95% confidence interval 11.2 to 13.2). During the study there were five maternal deaths attributed to conditions studied. Disease specific morbidities per 1000 deliveries were 6.7 (6.0 to 7.5) for severe haemorrhage, 3.9 (3.3 to 4.5) for severe pre-eclampsia, 0.2 (0.1 to 0.4) for eclampsia, 0.5 (0.3 to 0.8) for HELLP (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelets) syndrome, 0.4 (0.2 to 0.6) for severe sepsis, and 0.2 (0.1 to 0.4) for uterine rupture. Age over 34 years, non-white ethnic group, past or current hypertension, previous postpartum haemorrhage, delivery by emergency caesarean section, antenatal admission to hospital, multiple pregnancy, social exclusion, and taking iron or anti-depressants at antenatal booking were all independently associated with morbidity after adjustment.
Conclusion
Severe obstetric morbidity and its relation to mortality may be more sensitive measures of pregnancy outcome than mortality alone. Most events are related to obstetric haemorrhage and severe pre-eclampsia. Caesarean section quadruples the risk of morbidity. Development and evaluation of ways of predicting and reducing risk are required with particular emphasis paid on the management of haemorrhage and pre-eclampsia.
What is already known on this topicMaternal mortality is used internationally as a measure of the quality of obstetric intervention, although it is now rare in the developed worldHospital based series estimating the incidence of severe obstetric morbidity have used different definitionsEstimated incidence of severe obstetric morbidity ranges from 0.05 to 1.09What this study addsWith clear definitions and population based estimates of some severe obstetric morbidities this study estimated the overall incidence of severe obstetric morbidity as 1.2 % of deliveriesTwo thirds of the cases are related to severe haemorrhage, one third to hypertensive disordersRisk factors for severe maternal morbidity include maternal age >34, social exclusion, non-white, hypertension, previous postpartum haemorrhage, induction of labour, and caesarean section
PMCID: PMC31259  PMID: 11337436
14.  Existence and functionality of emergency obstetric care services at district level in Kenya: theoretical coverage versus reality 
Background
The knowledge on emergency obstetric care (EmOC) is limited in Kenya, where only partial data from sub-national studies exist. The EmOC process indicators have also not been integrated into routine health management information system to monitor progress in safe motherhood interventions both at national and lower levels of the health system. In a country with a high maternal mortality burden, the implication is that decision makers are unaware of the extent of need for life-saving care and, therefore, where to intervene. The objective of the study was to assess the actual existence and functionality of EmOC services at district level.
Methods
This was a facility-based cross-sectional study. Data were collected from 40 health facilities offering delivery services in Malindi District, Kenya. Data presented are part of the “Response to accountable priority setting for trust in health systems” (REACT) study, in which EmOC was one of the service areas selected to assess fairness and legitimacy of priority setting in health care. The main outcome measures in this study were the number of facilities providing EmOC, their geographical distribution, and caesarean section rates in relation to World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
Results
Among the 40 facilities assessed, 29 were government owned, seven were private and four were voluntary organisations. The ratio of EmOC facilities to population size was met (6.2/500,000), compared to the recommended 5/500,000. However, using the strict WHO definition, none of the facilities met the EmOC requirements, since assisted delivery, by vacuum or forceps was not provided in any facility. Rural–urban inequities in geographical distribution of facilities were observed. The facilities were not providing sufficient life-saving care as measured by caesarean section rates, which were below recommended levels (3.7% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2009). The rates were lower in the rural than in urban areas (2.1% vs. 6.8%; p < 0.001 ) in 2008 and (2.7% vs. 7.7%; p < 0.001) in 2009.
Conclusions
The gaps in existence and functionality of EmOC services revealed in this study may point to the health system conditions contributing to lack of improvements in maternal survival in Kenya. As such, the findings bear considerable implications for policy and local priority setting.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-113
PMCID: PMC3616893  PMID: 23522087
Kenya; Maternal health; Emergency obstetric care; Life-saving
15.  The Effectiveness of Emergency Obstetric Referral Interventions in Developing Country Settings: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001264.
In a systematic review of the literature, Julia Hussein and colleagues seek to determine the effect of referral interventions that enable emergency access to health facilities for pregnant women living in developing countries.
Background
Pregnancy complications can be unpredictable and many women in developing countries cannot access health facilities where life-saving care is available. This study assesses the effects of referral interventions that enable pregnant women to reach health facilities during an emergency, after the decision to seek care is made.
Methods and findings
Selected bibliographic databases were searched with no date or language restrictions. Randomised controlled trials and quasi experimental study designs with a comparison group were included. Outcomes of interest included maternal and neonatal mortality and other intermediate measures such as service utilisation. Two reviewers independently selected, appraised, and extracted articles using predefined fields. Forest plots, tables, and qualitative summaries of study quality, size, and direction of effect were used for analysis.
Nineteen studies were included. In South Asian settings, four studies of organisational interventions in communities that generated funds for transport reduced neonatal deaths, with the largest effect seen in India (odds ratio 0·48 95% CI 0·34–0·68). Three quasi experimental studies from sub-Saharan Africa reported reductions in stillbirths with maternity waiting home interventions, with one statistically significant result (OR 0.56 95% CI 0.32–0.96). Effects of interventions on maternal mortality were unclear. Referral interventions usually improved utilisation of health services but the opposite effect was also documented. The effects of multiple interventions in the studies could not be disentangled. Explanatory mechanisms through which the interventions worked could not be ascertained.
Conclusions
Community mobilisation interventions may reduce neonatal mortality but the contribution of referral components cannot be ascertained. The reduction in stillbirth rates resulting from maternity waiting homes needs further study. Referral interventions can have unexpected adverse effects. To inform the implementation of effective referral interventions, improved monitoring and evaluation practices are necessary, along with studies that develop better understanding of how interventions work.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 350,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Almost all of these “maternal” deaths occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is 500 and a woman's life-time risk of dying from complications of pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 39. By contrast, the MMR in industrialized countries is 12 and women have a life-time risk of maternal death of 1 in 4,700. Most maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhage (severe bleeding after childbirth), post-delivery infections, obstructed (difficult) labor, and blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, all of which are preventable or treatable conditions. Unfortunately, it is hard to predict which women will develop pregnancy complications, many complications rapidly become life-threatening and, in developing countries, women often deliver at home, far from emergency obstetric services; obstetrics deals with the care of women and their children during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period.
Why Was This Study Done?
It should be possible to reduce maternal deaths (and the deaths of babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and early life) in developing countries by ensuring that pregnant women are referred to emergency obstetric services quickly when the need arises. Unfortunately, in such countries referral to emergency obstetric care is beset with problems such as difficult geographical terrain, transport costs, lack of vehicles, and suboptimal location and distribution of health care facilities. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers assess the effectiveness of interventions designed to reduce the “phase II delay” in referral to emergency obstetric care in developing countries—the time it takes a woman to reach an appropriate health care facility once a problem has been recognized and the decision has been taken to seek care. Delays in diagnosis and the decision to seek care are phase I delays in referral, whereas delays in receiving care once a women reaches a health care facility are phase III delays.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 19 published studies that described 14 interventions designed to overcome phase II delays in emergency obstetric referral and that met their criteria for inclusion in their systematic review. About half of the interventions were organizational. That is, they were designed to overcome barriers to referral such as costs. Most of the remaining interventions were structural. That is, they involved the provision of, for example, ambulances and maternity waiting homes—placed close to a health care facility where women can stay during late pregnancy. Although seven studies provided data on maternal mortality, none showed a sustained, statistically significant reduction (a reduction unlikely to have occurred by chance) in maternal deaths. Four studies in South Asia in which communities generated funds for transport reduced neonatal deaths (deaths of babies soon after birth), but the only statistically significant effect of this community mobilization intervention was seen in India where neonatal deaths were halved. Three studies from sub-Saharan Africa reported that the introduction of maternity waiting homes reduced stillbirths but this reduction was only significant in one study. Finally, although referral interventions generally improved the utilization of health services, in one study the provision of bicycle ambulances to take women to the hospital reduced the proportion of women delivering in health facilities, probably because women felt that bicycle ambulances drew unwanted attention to them during labor and so preferred to stay at home.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that community mobilization interventions may reduce neonatal mortality and that maternity waiting rooms may reduce stillbirths. Importantly, they also highlight how referral interventions can have unexpected adverse effects. However, because the studies included in this systematic review included multiple interventions designed to reduce delays at several stages of the referral process, it is not possible to disentangle the contribution of each component of the intervention. Moreover, it is impossible at present to determine why (or even if) any of the interventions reduced maternal mortality. Thus, the researchers conclude, improved monitoring of interventions and better evaluation of outcomes is essential to inform the implementation of effective referral interventions, and more studies are needed to improve understanding of how referral interventions work.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001264.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF./UNFPA/World Bank 2008 country estimates of maternal mortality
The World Health Organization provides information on maternal health, including information about Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality (in several languages); the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, are designed to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide by 2015
Immpact is a global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies
Veil of Tears contains personal stories from Afghanistan about loss in childbirth; the non-governmental health development organization AMREF provides personal stories about maternal health in Africa
Maternal Death: The Avoidable Crisis is a briefing paper published by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in March 2012
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001264
PMCID: PMC3393680  PMID: 22807658
16.  Tanzanian lessons in using non-physician clinicians to scale up comprehensive emergency obstetric care in remote and rural areas 
Background
With 15-30% met need for comprehensive emergency obstetrical care (CEmOC) and a 3% caesarean section rate, Tanzania needs to expand the number of facilities providing these services in more remote areas. Considering severe shortage of human resources for health in the country, currently operating at 32% of the required skilled workforce, an intensive three-month course was developed to train non-physician clinicians for remote health centres.
Methods
Competency-based curricula for assistant medical officers' (AMOs) training in CEmOC, and for nurses, midwives and clinical officers in anaesthesia and operation theatre etiquette were developed and implemented in Ifakara, Tanzania. The required key competencies were identified, taught and objectively assessed. The training involved hands-on sessions, lectures and discussions. Participants were purposely selected in teams from remote health centres where CEmOC services were planned. Monthly supportive supervision after graduation was carried out in the upgraded health centres
Results
A total of 43 care providers from 12 health centres located in 11 rural districts in Tanzania and 2 from Somalia were trained from June 2009 to April 2010. Of these 14 were AMOs trained in CEmOC and 31 nurse-midwives and clinical officers trained in anaesthesia. During training, participants performed 278 major obstetric surgeries, 141 manual removal of placenta and evacuation of incomplete and septic abortions, and 1161 anaesthetic procedures under supervision. The first 8 months after introduction of CEmOC services in 3 health centres resulted in 179 caesarean sections, a remarkable increase of institutional deliveries by up to 300%, decreased fresh stillbirth rate (OR: 0.4; 95% CI: 0.1-1.7) and reduced obstetric referrals (OR: 0.2; 95% CI: 0.1-0.4)). There were two maternal deaths, both arriving in a moribund condition.
Conclusions
Tanzanian AMOs, clinical officers, and nurse-midwives can be trained as a team, in a three-month course, to provide effective CEmOC and anaesthesia in remote health centres.
doi:10.1186/1478-4491-9-28
PMCID: PMC3230124  PMID: 22071096
17.  Human resources for emergency obstetric care in northern Tanzania: distribution of quantity or quality? 
Background
Health care agencies report that the major limiting factor for implementing effective health policies and reforms worldwide is a lack of qualified human resources. Although many agencies have adopted policy development and clinical practice guidelines, the human resources necessary to carry out these policies towards actual reform are not yet in place.
Objectives
The goal of this article is to evaluate the current status of human resources quality, availability and distribution in Northern Tanzania in order to provide emergency obstetric care services to specific districts in this area. The article also discusses the usefulness of distribution indicators for describing equity in the decision-making process.
Methods
We conducted a quantitative facility survey in six districts of Northern Tanzania. We collected data from all 129 facilities that provide delivery services in the study area. The data includes information on the emergency obstetric care indicators, as described by the WHO/UNICEF/UFPA guidelines for monitoring the provision of obstetric care. The inventory also includes information on the numbers of qualified health personnel at the basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care level. We analysed the distribution and workload of the available human resources in a wider policy context with a particular focus on equity, use and quality, by means of descriptive statistics and the Spearman's correlation test.
Results
We determined that there are adequate human resources allocated for health care provision in Tanzania, according to national standards. Compared to similar countries however, Tanzania has a very low availability of health care staff. Most qualified staff are concentrated in a few centralized locations, while those remaining are inequitably and inefficiently distributed in rural areas and lower-level services. Rural districts have restricted access to government-run health care, because these facilities are understaffed. In fact, voluntary agency facilities in these districts have more staff than the government facilities. There is a statistical correlation between availability of qualified human resources and use of services, but the availability of qualified human resources does not automatically translate into higher availability of qualified emergency obstetric care services.
Conclusion
National guidelines for human resources for health care in Tanzania require focused revisions in order to reflect the quality indicators more adequately when monitoring and setting criteria for HR distribution. Availability of qualified personnel as well as institutional management and capacity determine the quality of emergency obstetric care services and personnel. The current wide distribution of staff of inadequate quality should be reconsidered. The use of distribution indicators alone is not useful to properly monitor equity. This article suggests increasing access to high-quality health care instead of distributing low-quality services widely.
doi:10.1186/1478-4491-3-5
PMCID: PMC1199615  PMID: 16053519
18.  Maternal near miss and mortality in a rural referral hospital in northern Tanzania: a cross-sectional study 
Background
Maternal morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa remains high despite global efforts to reduce it. In order to lower maternal morbidity and mortality in the immediate term, reduction of delay in the provision of quality obstetric care is of prime importance. The aim of this study is to assess the occurrence of severe maternal morbidity and mortality in a rural referral hospital in Tanzania as proposed by the WHO near miss approach and to assess implementation levels of key evidence-based interventions in women experiencing severe maternal morbidity and mortality.
Methods
A prospective cross-sectional study was performed from November 2009 until November 2011 in a rural referral hospital in Tanzania. All maternal near misses and maternal deaths were included. As not all WHO near miss criteria were applicable, a modification was used to identify cases. Data were collected from medical records using a structured data abstraction form. Descriptive frequencies were calculated for demographic and clinical variables, outcome indicators, underlying causes, and process indicators.
Results
In the two-year period there were 216 maternal near misses and 32 maternal deaths. The hospital-based maternal mortality ratio was 350 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (95% CI 243–488). The maternal near miss incidence ratio was 23.6 per 1,000 live births, with an overall case fatality rate of 12.9%. Oxytocin for prevention of postpartum haemorrhage was used in 96 of 201 women and oxytocin for treatment of postpartum haemorrhage was used in 38 of 66 women. Furthermore, eclampsia was treated with magnesium sulphate in 87% of all cases. Seventy-four women underwent caesarean section, of which 25 women did not receive prophylactic antibiotics. Twenty-eight of 30 women who were admitted with sepsis received parenteral antibiotics. The majority of the cases with uterine rupture (62%) occurred in the hospital.
Conclusion
Maternal morbidity and mortality remain challenging problems in a rural referral hospital in Tanzania. Key evidence-based interventions are not implemented in women with severe maternal morbidity and mortality. Progress can be made through up scaling the use of evidence-based interventions, such as the use of oxytocin for prevention and treatment of postpartum haemorrhage.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-141
PMCID: PMC3716905  PMID: 23826935
Maternal near miss; Severe acute maternal morbidity; Maternal mortality; Quality of obstetric care; WHO near miss approach; WHO near miss criteria
19.  Maternal mortality in Kassala State - Eastern Sudan: community-based study using Reproductive age mortality survey (RAMOS) 
Background
The maternal mortality ratio in Sudan was estimated at 750/100,000 live births. Sudan was one of eleven countries that are responsible for 65% of global maternal deaths according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) estimate. Maternal mortality in Kassala State was high in national demographic surveys. This study was conducted to investigate the causes and contributing factors of maternal deaths and to identify any discrepancies in rates and causes between different areas.
Methods
A reproductive age mortality survey (RAMOS) was conducted to study maternal mortality in Kassala State. Deaths of women of reproductive age (WRA) in four purposively selected areas were identified by interviewing key informants in each village followed by verbal autopsy.
Results
Over a three-year period, 168 maternal deaths were identified among 26,066 WRA. Verbal autopsies were conducted in 148 (88.1%) of these cases. Of these, 64 (43.2%) were due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. Maternal mortality rates and ratios were 80.6 per 100,000 WRA and 713.6 per 100,000 live births (LB), respectively. There was a wide discrepancy between urban and rural maternal mortality ratios (369 and 872\100,000 LB, respectively). Direct obstetric causes were responsible for 58.4% of deaths. Severe anemia (20.3%) and acute febrile illness (9.4%) were the major indirect causes of maternal death whereas obstetric hemorrhage (15.6%), obstructed labor (14.1%) and puerperal sepsis (10.9%) were the major obstetric causes.
Of the contributing factors, we found delay of referral in 73.4% of cases in spite of a high problem recognition rate (75%). 67.2% of deaths occurred at home, indicating under utilization of health facilities, and transportation problems were found in 54.7% of deaths.
There was a high illiteracy rate among the deceased and their husbands (62.5% and 48.4%, respectively).
Conclusions
Maternal mortality rates and ratios were found to be high, with a wide variation between urban and rural populations. Direct causes of maternal death were similar to those in developing countries. To reduce this high maternal mortality rate we recommend improving provision of emergency obstetric care (Emoc) in all health facilities, expanding midwifery training and coverage especially in rural areas.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-102
PMCID: PMC3260097  PMID: 22171988
20.  Uterine Rupture by Intended Mode of Delivery in the UK: A National Case-Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001184.
A case-control study using UK data estimates the risk of uterine rupture in subsequent deliveries amongst women who have had a previous caesarean section.
Background
Recent reports of the risk of morbidity due to uterine rupture are thought to have contributed in some countries to a decrease in the number of women attempting a vaginal birth after caesarean section. The aims of this study were to estimate the incidence of true uterine rupture in the UK and to investigate and quantify the associated risk factors and outcomes, on the basis of intended mode of delivery.
Methods and Findings
A UK national case-control study was undertaken between April 2009 and April 2010. The participants comprised 159 women with uterine rupture and 448 control women with a previous caesarean delivery. The estimated incidence of uterine rupture was 0.2 per 1,000 maternities overall; 2.1 and 0.3 per 1,000 maternities in women with a previous caesarean delivery planning vaginal or elective caesarean delivery, respectively. Amongst women with a previous caesarean delivery, odds of rupture were also increased in women who had ≥ two previous caesarean deliveries (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 3.02, 95% CI 1.16–7.85) and <12 months since their last caesarean delivery (aOR 3.12, 95% CI 1.62–6.02). A higher risk of rupture with labour induction and oxytocin use was apparent (aOR 3.92, 95% CI 1.00–15.33). Two women with uterine rupture died (case fatality 1.3%, 95% CI 0.2–4.5%). There were 18 perinatal deaths associated with uterine rupture among 145 infants (perinatal mortality 124 per 1,000 total births, 95% CI 75–189).
Conclusions
Although uterine rupture is associated with significant mortality and morbidity, even amongst women with a previous caesarean section planning a vaginal delivery, it is a rare occurrence. For women with a previous caesarean section, risk of uterine rupture increases with number of previous caesarean deliveries, a short interval since the last caesarean section, and labour induction and/or augmentation. These factors should be considered when counselling and managing the labour of women with a previous caesarean section.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Uterine rupture is a serious complication of pregnancy in which the wall of the uterus (womb) tears during pregnancy or early labor. Signs and symptoms of uterine rupture include fetal heart rate abnormalities, abdominal pain, and vaginal bleeding. If uterine rupture happens during labor, the woman must have an immediate caesarean section (surgical delivery of her baby) to save both her life and that of her baby. The woman's womb and nearby organs can be damaged at rupture or removed during surgery and she may need a blood transfusion because of severe bleeding. Moreover, her baby may develop respiratory distress syndrome and other life-threatening complications. In high income countries, uterine rupture most commonly occurs in women who have delivered a previous pregnancy by caesarean section. In a caesarean section, the baby is delivered through a cut made through the abdominal wall and the uterine wall. The stretching that occurs during pregnancy or the strong contractions of labor can tear the scar left by this cut, resulting in uterine rupture.
Why Was This Study Done?
Women who have had a caesarean delivery are generally encouraged to try to deliver subsequent babies vaginally. However, recent reports of an increased risk of complications (morbidity) and death (mortality) due to uterine rupture are thought to reduce women's willingness to attempt vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) in some countries. In the UK, for example, where one in four babies is delivered by caesarean section, a previous caesarean delivery is one of commonest reasons for a repeat section. Obstetricians (doctors who care for women during child birth) need to know as much as possible about the incidence of uterine rupture and about the risk factors for it so that they can advise women who have had a previous caesarean section about their delivery options. In this national case-control study (a study that compares the characteristics of people with and without a specific condition), the researchers estimate the incidence of uterine rupture in the UK by intended mode of delivery and investigate and quantify the risk factors for and outcomes of uterine rupture.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) to identify all the women in the UK who had a uterine rupture over a 13-month period (159 women, 139 of whom had had a previous caesarean delivery). Controls for the study were women who had not had a uterine rupture but who had previously delivered by caesarean section. Overall, the incidence of uterine rupture was 0.2 per 1,000 maternities. In women with a previous caesarean delivery, 2.1 and 0.3 per 1,000 maternities ended in uterine rupture in women planning vaginal delivery and caesarean delivery, respectively. Amongst women who had had a previous caesarean delivery, the risk of uterine rupture was greater among those who had had two or more previous caesarean deliveries or a caesarean delivery less than 12 months previously, or whose labor was induced. Two women died following uterine rupture (a case fatality of 1.3%) and 18 babies died around the time of birth (a perinatal mortality rate of 124 per 1,000 live births; the UK perinatal mortality rate is 7.5 per 1,000 live births). 15 of the women who had a uterine rupture had their womb removed, 10 had other organs damaged, and nearly half had other complications; 19 of the surviving babies had health problems.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, in the UK, although uterine rupture is associated with significant mortality and morbidity, it is a rare occurrence even among women who have had a previous caesarean delivery and are planning a vaginal delivery. They also indicate that, for women who have previously had a caesarean section, the risk of rupture increases with the number of previous caesarean deliveries, with a short interval since the last caesarean section, and with labor induction. Although the researchers may not have identified all the women who had a uterine rupture during the study period or may have identified only the worst cases, these findings provide valuable information about the factors that obstetricians need to consider when advising women who have previously had a caesarean section and when managing their labor.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001184.
This study is linked to a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Caroline Crowther and a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Catherine Spong
Wikipedia has a page on uterine rupture (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has information sheets for patients on caesarean sections and on vaginal birth after caesarean delivery
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK has information for women on birth after previous caesarean
Childbirth Connection, a US-based not-for-profit organization, provides information about caesarean sections and about vaginal birth after caesarean
The National Childbirth Trust, a UK charity, provides information for parents on all aspects of pregnancy and birth, including caesarean sections and vaginal birth after caesarean delivery
The UK charity Healthtalkonline has personal stories from women making decisions about birth after a caesarean section
A personal story of uterine rupture during an attempted VBAC is available
The UK Obstetric Surveillance System studies rare disorders of pregnancy in the UK
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001184
PMCID: PMC3302846  PMID: 22427745
21.  Effectiveness of community based safe motherhood promoters in improving the utilization of obstetric care. The case of Mtwara Rural District in Tanzania 
Background
In Tanzania, maternal mortality ratio remains unacceptably high at 578/100,000 live births. Despite a high coverage of antenatal care (96%), only 44% of deliveries take place within the formal health services. Still, "Ensure skilled attendant at birth" is acknowledged as one of the most effective interventions to reduce maternal deaths. Exploring the potential of community-based interventions in increasing the utilization of obstetric care, the study aimed at developing, testing and assessing a community-based safe motherhood intervention in Mtwara rural District of Tanzania.
Method
This community-based intervention was designed as a pre-post comparison study, covering 4 villages with a total population of 8300. Intervention activities were implemented by 50 trained safe motherhood promoters (SMPs). Their tasks focused on promoting early and complete antenatal care visits and delivery with a skilled attendant. Data on all 512 deliveries taking place from October 2004 to November 2006 were collected by the SMPs and cross-checked with health service records. In addition 242 respondents were interviewed with respect to knowledge on safe motherhood issues and their perception of the SMP's performance. Skilled delivery attendance was our primary outcome; secondary outcomes included antenatal care attendance and knowledge on Safe Motherhood issues.
Results
Deliveries with skilled attendant significantly increased from 34.1% to 51.4% (ρ < 0.05). Early ANC booking (4 to 16 weeks) rose significantly from 18.7% at baseline to 37.7% in 2005 and 56.9% (ρ < 0.001) at final assessment. After two years 44 (88%) of the SMPs were still active, 79% of pregnant women were visited. Further benefits included the enhancement of male involvement in safe motherhood issues.
Conclusion
The study has demonstrated the effectiveness of community-based safe motherhood intervention in promoting the utilization of obstetric care and a skilled attendant at delivery. This improvement is attributed to the SMPs' home visits and the close collaboration with existing community structures as well as health services.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-14
PMCID: PMC2858713  PMID: 20359341
22.  Community involvement in obstetric emergency management in rural areas: a case of Rukungiri district, Western Uganda 
Background
Maternal mortality is a major public health problem worldwide especially in low income countries. Most causes of maternal deaths are due to direct obstetric complications. Maternal mortality ratio remains high in Rukungiri district, western Uganda estimated at 475 per 100,000 live births. The objectives were to identify types of community involvement and examine factors influencing the level of community involvement in the management of obstetric emergencies.
Methods
We conducted a descriptive study during 2nd to 28th February 2009 in rural Rukungiri district, western Uganda. A total of 448 heads of households, randomly selected from 6/11 (54.5%) of sub-counties, 21/42 (50.0%) parishes and 32/212 (15.1%) villages (clusters), were interviewed. Data were analysed using STATA version 10.0.
Results
Community pre-emergency support interventions available included community awareness creation (sensitization) while interventions undertaken when emergency had occurred included transportation and referring women to health facility. Community support programmes towards health care (obstetric emergencies) included establishment of community savings and credit schemes, and insurance schemes. The factors associated with community involvement in obstetric emergency management were community members being employed (AOR = 1.91, 95% CI: 1.02 - 3.54) and rating the quality of maternal health care as good (AOR = 2.22, 95% CI: 1.19 - 4.14).
Conclusions
Types of community involvement in obstetric emergency management include practices and support programmes. Community involvement in obstetric emergency management is influenced by employment status and perceived quality of health care services. Policies to promote community networks and resource mobilization strategies for health care should be implemented. There is need for promotion of community support initiatives including health insurance schemes and self help associations; further community sensitization by empowered community based resource persons rather than health workers and improvement in quality of health care can contribute towards effective management of obstetric complications.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-20
PMCID: PMC3378461  PMID: 22455614
Obstetric emergency management; Maternal deaths; Community involvement; Uganda
23.  Utilisation of obstetric sonography at a peri-urban health centre in Uganda 
Background
Maternal mortality is related to obstetric complications in pregnancy some of which could be revealed by obstetric sonography. Obstetric sonography has become part of routine antenatal care in both urban and rural settings. The objective of the study was to assess the utilization of obstetric sonography in a rural hospital of Uganda, including the frequency and appropriateness of its usage as well as determine whether there was any relation between number of obstetric scans, patient management and obstetric outcomes.
Methods
It was a retrospective study in which review of all obstetric charts and obstetric scan requisition forms for all deliveries in Ndejje Health Centre (Uganda) was done.
Results
During the study period, there were 105 singleton deliveries, and these mothers underwent a total of 232 obstetric scans. More than half (53.4%) of the scans were classified as inappropriate. There were no significant differences in the number of scans between low- and high-risk pregnancies or between uncomplicated deliveries and those in which induction or instrumental or operative delivery occurred, nor was there any relation between number of scans and obstetric outcome.
Conclusion
Obstetric sonography has become popular in rural health settings as part of antenatal care. However, it was over-used in the health centre. This overuse was not associated with any identifiable effect on obstetric outcome. Therefore, more appropriate use of obstetric sonography, in accordance with evidence-based guidelines, is recommended.
PMCID: PMC3172624  PMID: 21918711
Obstetric; sonography; Uganda; ultrasound
24.  National data system on near miss and maternal death: shifting from maternal risk to public health impact in Nigeria 
Background
The lack of reliable and up-to-date statistics on maternal deaths and disabilities remains a major challenge to the implementation of Nigeria's Road Map to Accelerate the Millennium Development Goal related to Maternal Health (MDG-5). There are currently no functioning national data sources on maternal deaths and disabilities that could serve as reference points for programme managers, health advocates and policy makers. While awaiting the success of efforts targeted at overcoming the barriers facing establishment of population-based data systems, referral institutions in Nigeria can contribute their quota in the quest towards MDG-5 by providing good quality and reliable information on maternal deaths and disabilities on a continuous basis. This project represents the first opportunity to initiate a scientifically sound and reliable quantitative system of data gathering on maternal health profile in Nigeria.
Objective
The primary objective is to create a national data system on maternal near miss (MNM) and maternal mortality in Nigerian public tertiary institutions. This system will conduct periodically, both regionally and at country level, a review of the magnitude of MNM and maternal deaths, nature of events responsible for MNM and maternal deaths, indices for the quality of care for direct obstetric complications and the health service events surrounding these complications, in an attempt to collectively define and monitor the standard of comprehensive emergency obstetric care in the country.
Methods
This will be a nationwide cohort study of all women who experience MNM and those who die from pregnancy, childbirth and puerperal complications using uniform criteria among women admitted in tertiary healthcare facilities in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. This will be accomplished by establishing a network of all public tertiary obstetric referral institutions that will prospectively collect specific information on potentially fatal maternal complications. For every woman enrolled, the health service events (care pathways) within the facility will be evaluated to identify areas of substandard care/avoidable factors through clinical audit by the local research team. A summary estimate of the frequencies of MNM and maternal deaths will be determined at intervals and indicators of quality of care (case fatality rate, both total and cause-specific and mortality index) will be evaluated at facility, regional and country levels.
Management
Overall project management will be from the Centre for Research in Reproductive Health (CRRH), Sagamu, Nigeria. There will be at least two meetings and site visits for efficient coordination of the project by regional coordinators and central coordinating staff. Data will be transferred electronically by hospital and regional coordinators and managed at the Data Management Unit of CRRH, Sagamu, Nigeria.
Expected outcomes
The outcome of the study would provide useful information to the health practitioners, policy-makers and international partners on the strengths and weaknesses of the infrastructures provided for comprehensive emergency obstetric care in Nigeria. The successful implementation of this project will pave way for the long-awaited Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths that would guide the formulation and or revision of obstetric policies and practices in Nigeria. Lessons learnt from the establishment of this data system can also be used to set up similar structures at lower levels of healthcare delivery in Nigeria.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-6-8
PMCID: PMC2702364  PMID: 19508717
25.  A decade of inequality in maternity care: antenatal care, professional attendance at delivery, and caesarean section in Bangladesh (1991–2004) 
Background
Bangladesh is committed to the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG-5) target of reducing its maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015. Since the early 1990s, Bangladesh has followed a strategy of improving access to facilities equipped and staffed to provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC).
Methods
We used data from four Demographic and Health Surveys conducted between 1993 and 2004 to examine trends in the proportions of live births preceded by antenatal consultation, attended by a health professional, and delivered by caesarean section, according to key socio-demographic characteristics.
Results
Utilization of antenatal care increased substantially, from 24% in 1991 to 60% in 2004. Despite a relatively greater increase in rural than urban areas, utilization remained much lower among the poorest rural women without formal education (18%) compared with the richest urban women with secondary or higher education (99%). Professional attendance at delivery increased by 50% (from 9% to 14%, more rapidly in rural than urban areas), and caesarean sections trebled (from 2% to 6%), but these indicators remained low even by developing country standards. Within these trends there were huge inequalities; 86% of live births among the richest urban women with secondary or higher education were attended by a health professional, and 35% were delivered by caesarean section, compared with 2% and 0.1% respectively of live births among the poorest rural women without formal education. The trend in professional attendance was entirely confounded by socioeconomic and demographic changes, but education of the woman and her husband remained important determinants of utilization of obstetric services.
Conclusion
Despite commendable progress in improving uptake of antenatal care, and in equipping health facilities to provide emergency obstetric care, the very low utilization of these facilities, especially by poor women, is a major impediment to meeting MDG-5 in Bangladesh.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-6-9
PMCID: PMC2014749  PMID: 17760962

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