March 27, 2006

Leading Causes of Maternal Deaths Identified

LONDON (Reuters) - Hemorrhage and high blood pressure are the leading causes of maternal deaths in poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to research published on Tuesday.

Each year about 8 million women suffer pregnancy-related complications and over half a million die, but many of the deaths could be prevented, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"In our analysis of joint causes of death, hemorrhage was the leading cause of maternal deaths in Africa and Asia," said Dr A. Meting Gulmezoglu, of the WHO's department of reproductive health and research.

"Hypertension disorders represent the highest cause of death in Latin America and the Caribbean," he added in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal.

HIV/AIDS caused about 6 percent of maternal deaths in Africa, while anemia and obstructed labor resulted in one-tenth of such deaths in Asia. Deaths related to abortions were highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Abortion-related deaths can exceed 30 percent in parts of Latin America and eastern Europe," Gulmezoglu said.

"The regional variation in abortion-related deaths is a call for increased attention to access in those areas to services that can help women avoid unwanted birth," he added.

In developed countries, the leading causes of women dying during childbirth are complications related to Caesarian section delivery and anesthesia.

Gulmezoglu and his team reviewed data on more than 35,000 maternal deaths. The aim of the study was to determine why women were dying during pregnancy and birth and what measures are needed to prevent them.

They found that in Africa and Asia about 30 percent of maternal deaths were due to hemorrhage, which can be avoided or treated if the right diagnosis is made.

The researchers said magnesium sulphate should be available in all regions, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, for women suffering from seizures due to high blood pressure and eclampsia.

Effective antenatal care could help identify women at risk of high blood pressure and eclampsia which results in convulsion during late pregnancy.