NCDs emerge as a major cause for maternal deaths

WHO study says 1 in 4 maternal deaths are caused by pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity and HIV

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Wednesday 07 May 2014


The report published on Tuesday says that more than 27 per cent maternal deaths between 2003 and 2009 occurred because of indirect causes. Haemorrhage or bleeding was the other major cause. The WHO study published in The Lancet is in addition to the WHO report released on Tuesday which said that though maternal mortality has reduced 45 per cent since 1990, many countries, including India, are still far from achieving the Millennium Development Goal for 2015.  

Focusing on causes of death, the Lancet study—Global causes of maternal death: a WHO systematic analysis—finds that more than 1 in 4 maternal deaths are caused by pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, HIV, malaria and obesity; the health impacts of these can be aggravated by pregnancy. In the research, these have been clubbed as indirect causes.

According to the study, “Between 2003 and 2009, haemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and sepsis were responsible for more than half of maternal deaths worldwide and more than a quarter of deaths were attributable to indirect causes.”

For data analysis, the researchers used specialised and general bibliographic databases for articles published between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2012. They identified 23 eligible studies (published from 2003 to 2012) and also included 417 datasets from 115 countries for 60,799 deaths in the analysis.

Changing profile of maternal deaths
WHO director of reproductive health and research and also the co-author of the research, Marleen Temmerman, said that the new data show a changing profile in the conditions that cause maternal deaths, reflecting the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases in women throughout the world. 

Ending preventable maternal deaths will require both continued efforts to reduce complications directly related to pregnancy, and more of a focus on non-communicable diseases and their effect on pregnancy, she said. 

Integrated care for women with conditions like diabetes and obesity will reduce deaths and prevent long-lasting health problems, she added. 

The researchers hope the study will help countries to prioritise health policies. 

Highlighting the problem of unavailability of data, researchers said it is a major challenge in the planning for MMR control.

Main causes of maternal deaths
Reason Percentage contribution
Haemorrhage 27·1%
Hypertensive disorders 14·0%
Sepsis 10·7%
Abortion 7·9%
Embolism 3·2%
Direct causes of death 9·6%
Indirect causes of death 27.5%


Report: Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2013

Feature: Global causes of maternal death: a WHO systematic analysis

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