Women on the ward at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. WHO/P. Virot
Women on the ward at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. WHO/P. Virot

Key interventions to prevent maternal deaths identified

A three-year global study has identified the key interventions that will sharply reduce the number of women who die each year during pregnancy and childbirth, and the number of children who die before the age of five.

The study, from the World Health Organization, the Aga Khan University and the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, examined more than 50,000 scientific papers to determine which interventions had most impact on survival and came up with 56 of the most effective. They include:

  • managing maternal anaemia with iron
  • preventing and managing post-partum haemorrhage
  • providing immediate thermal care for newborns
  • providing extra support for feeding small and preterm babies
  • providing antibiotics for the treatment of pneumonia in children.

Around 358,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth, and 7.6 million children die before the age of five. The new study was designed to facilitate decisions about how to allocate limited resources in low and middle income countries.

Gill Brook, Secretary of the International Organization of Physical Therapists in Women's Health (IOPTWH), welcomed the study and the clear way in which its recommendations have been presented. "Not only will the implementation of these recommendations save the lives of women and babies," she said, "but some – such as a Caesarean section for maternal/foetal indication – will also reduce the incidence of prolonged, obstructed labour. This frequently results in complications such as a bladder or bowel fistula, and crippling incontinence."   

Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHO’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and an author of the study, said: “What is new about the study is putting together information in a different way and building consensus among physicians, scientists and professional organisations to lay out an evidence-based path to help women before, during and after birth and their children. Everyone now agrees on the 56 essential interventions.”