The wide gap in maternal mortality ratios worldwide indicates major inequities in the levels of risk women face during pregnancy. Two priority strategies have emerged among safe motherhood advocates: increasing the quality of emergency obstetric care facilities and deploying skilled birth attendants. The training of traditional birth attendants, a strategy employed in the 1970s and 1980s, is no longer considered a best practice. However, inadequate access to emergency obstetric care and skilled birth attendants means women living in remote areas continue to die in large numbers from preventable maternal causes. This paper outlines an intervention to address the leading direct cause of maternal mortality, postpartum haemorrhage. The potential for saving maternal lives might increase if community-based birth attendants, women themselves, or other community members could be trained to use misoprostol to prevent postpartum haemorrhage. The growing body of evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of misoprostol for this indication raises the question: if achievement of the fifth Millennium Development Goal is truly a priority, why can policy makers and women’s health advocates not see that misoprostol distribution at the community level might have life-saving benefits that outweigh risks?
Recent efforts to reduce maternal mortality in developing countries have focused primarily on two long-term aims: training and deploying skilled birth attendants and upgrading emergency obstetric care facilities. Given the future population-level benefits, strengthening of health systems makes excellent strategic sense but it does not address the immediate safe-delivery needs of the estimated 45 million women who are likely to deliver at home, without a skilled birth attendant. There are currently 28 countries from four major regions in which fewer than half of all births are attended by skilled birth attendants. Sixty-nine percent of maternal deaths in these four regions can be attributed to these 28 countries, despite the fact that these countries only constitute 34% of the total population in these regions. Trends documenting the change in the proportion of births accompanied by a skilled attendant in these 28 countries over the last 15-20 years offer no indication that adequate change is imminent. To rapidly reduce maternal mortality in regions where births in the home without skilled birth attendants are common, governments and community-based organizations could implement a cost-effective, complementary strategy involving health workers who are likely to be present when births in the home take place. Training community-based birth attendants in primary and secondary prevention technologies (e.g. misoprostol, family planning, measurement of blood loss, and postpartum care) will increase the chance that women in the lowest economic quintiles will also benefit from global safe motherhood efforts.
Praying for Divine Intervention: The Reality of “The Three Delays” in Northern Nigeria
BM Tukur, U Bawa, K Odogwu, S Adaji, P Passano, I Suleiman
This paper describes how pregnant women in three northern Nigerian communities responded to maternal complications that occurred outside of a hospital setting. The sample consisted of 322 women who had recently delivered, of which 15% had at least one complication. Thirty-seven percent of women described antepartum or postpartum haemorrhage. Over 60% of women went to a health care facility, but 35% first tried herbal remedies and another 20% simply waited for their husband to return. The median interval between recognizing the problem and deciding to seek help was two hours. It took approximately one to two hours to reach the hospital and upon arrival, most respondents got care in one to two hours. Rural communities clearly have their own hierarchy of appropriate actions in the face of a household emergency which need to be understood in order to develop creative intervention strategies to reduce unnecessary risks to the life of a mother (Afr. J. Reprod. Health 2010; 14: 113-119).
Key words: Maternal mortality, obstetric emergency, three delays, obstetric complications, actions taken.
Although maternal mortality is a significant global health issue, achievements in mortality decline to date have been inadequate. A review of the interventions targeted at maternal mortality reduction demonstrates that most developing countries face tremendous challenges in the implementation of these interventions, including the availability of unreliable data and the shortage in human and financial resources, as well as limited political commitment. Examples from developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Honduras, demonstrate that maternal mortality will decline when appropriate strategies are in place. Such achievable strategies need to include redoubled commitments on the part of local, national and global political bodies, concrete investments in high-yield and cost-effective interventions and the delegation of some clinical tasks from higher-level healthcare providers to mid- or lower-level healthcare providers, as well as improved health-management information systems.
The current paper examines the realities of women delivering in resource-poor settings, and recommends cost-effective, scalable strategies for making these deliveries safer. Ninety-five percent of maternal deaths occur in poor settings, and the largest proportion of these deaths are women who deliver at home, far away from health care facilities, and without financial access to skilled providers. This situation will improve only when policymakers and programme planners refocus their attention on service delivery and financing interventions, with the potential to reach the largest portion of women living in places where mortality is the highest. We suggest three feasible interventions that can potentially minimise both demand and supply side problems of safe delivery: (1) misoprostol to treat postpartum haemorrhage, an easy to use and heat stable technology to reduce the leading cause of maternal deaths; (2) alternative providers, such as clinical officers, trained to offer emergency obstetric care services; (3) financing safe delivery through vouchers or other mechanisms that can be implemented in poor settings and made attractive to the donor community through output-based assistance (OBA).
Keywords: postpartum haemorrhage; maternal mortality; safe delivery; vouchers; misoprostol
Published In Global Public Health, Volume 4, Issue 6 November 2009 , pages 575 – 587