maternal mortality

The Global Burden of Disease 2015 article on maternal mortality by Nicholas Kassebaum and colleagues (Oct. 8, p. 1775) contains a serious error reflecting a basic misunderstanding of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target for maternal mortality. The report states that “only ten countries achieved MDG 5, but 122 of 195 countries have already met SDG 3.1”. This is a dangerous and inaccurate interpretation of the global goal. The SDG target is a global target, not a country target. To achieve the global target for maternal mortality reduction requires every country to reduce its national maternal mortality ratio from baseline by two-thirds in that timeframe. It is probably safe to assume that no country has succeeded in reducing its maternal mortality ratio by two-thirds since the SDGs were launched in September 2015.

This systematic review (Jan. 2003-Dec. 2014) synthesized evidence on interventions that have directly reduced mortality in high-HIV-prevalence populations. Antiretroviral therapy (ART)was the only intervention identified that decreased death in HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women. Multivitamin use was shown to reduce disease progression while other micronutrients and antibiotics had no beneficial effect on maternal mortality. The findings support global trends in encouraging initiation of lifelong ART for all HIV-infected pregnant and breastfeeding women (Option B+), regardless of their CD4+ count, as an important step in ensuring appropriate care and treatment.

In 2002, the Egypt Ministry of Health and Population, with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and assistance from Management Sciences for Health, introduced a Leadership Development Programme (LDP) in Aswan Governorate. The programme aimed to improve health services in three districts by increasing managers' ability to create high performing teams and lead them to achieve results.The programme introduced leadership and management practices and a methodology for identifying and addressing service delivery challenges. Ten teams of health workers participated. In 2003, after participation in the LDP, the districts of Aswan, Daraw and Kom Ombo increased the number of new family planning visits by 36%, 68% and 20%, respectively. The number of prenatal and postpartum visits also rose. After the USAID funding ended, local doctors and nurses scaled up the programme to 184 health care facilities (training more than 1,000 health workers). From 2005 to 2007, the LDP participants in Aswan Governorate focused on reducing the maternal mortality rate as their annual goal. They reduced it from 85.0 per 100,000 live births to 35.5 per 100,000.

Despite global progress in the fight to reduce maternal mortality, HIV-related maternal deaths remain persistently high, particularly in much of Africa. Lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART) appears to be the most effective way to prevent these deaths, but the rates of three key outcomes—ART initiation, retention in care, and long-term ART adherence—remain low. This systematic review synthesized evidence on health systems factors affecting these outcomes in pregnant and postpartum women living with HIV. Low prioritization of maternal ART and persistent dropout along the maternal ART cascade were key findings. Service delivery barriers included poor communication and coordination among health system actors, poor clinical practices, and gaps in provider training. The few studies that assessed maternal ART interventions demonstrated the importance of multi-pronged, multi-leveled interventions. There has been a lack of emphasis on the experiences, needs, and vulnerabilities particular to HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women. Supporting these women to successfully traverse the maternal ART cascade requires carefully designed and targeted interventions throughout the steps. Careful design of integrated service delivery models is of critical importance in this effort. Key knowledge gaps and research priorities were also identified, including definitions and indicators of adherence rates, and the importance of cumulative measures of dropout along the maternal ART cascade.

Despite progress reducing maternal mortality, HIV-related maternal deaths remain high, accounting, for example, for up to 24 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is effective in improving outcomes among HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women, yet rates of initiation, adherence, and retention remain low. This systematic literature review synthesized evidence about individual and contextual factors affecting ART use among HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women. Thirty-four studies were included in the review. Individual-level factors included both those within and outside a woman’s awareness and control (e.g., commitment to child’s health or age). Individual-level barriers included poor understanding of HIV, ART, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission; and difficulty managing practical demands of ART. At an interpersonal level, disclosure to a spouse and spousal involvement in treatment were associated with improved initiation, adherence, and retention. Fear of negative consequences was a barrier to disclosure. At a community level, stigma was a major barrier. Key structural barriers and enablers were related to health system use and engagement, including access to services and health worker attitudes. To be successful, programs seeking to expand access to and continued use of ART by integrating maternal health and HIV services must identify and address the relevant barriers and enablers in their own context that are described in this review. Further research on this population, including those who drop out of or never access health services, is needed to inform effective implementation.

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