Under-reporting of maternal mortality in Canada: a question of definition

Chronic Dis Can. 2002;23(1):22-30.


In Canada, maternal mortality reporting is based on information contained on death certificates. To examine the extent to which maternal deaths are under-reported in Canada and whether this is likely to change under the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), we linked live birth and stillbirth registrations to In Canada death registrations of women aged 10 to 50 for 1988 through 1992. We reviewed the death certificates of women found to have died while pregnant or within a year of the termination of pregnancy. The officially reported maternal mortality ratio for the study years was 3.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. Depending on whether we included deaths not certified as maternal deaths at the time the deaths occurred, revised ratios under ICD-9 ranged from 4.9 to 5.1 per 100,000 live births for deaths from direct obstetric causes and from 0.5 to 1.2 per 100,000 live births for deaths from indirect obstetric causes. Reflecting changes in classification criteria, revised ratios under ICD-10 were lower than those under ICD-9 for deaths from direct obstetric causes - ranging from 3.9 to 4.1 per 100,000 live births - and higher for deaths from indirect obstetric causes ranging from 2.0 to 3.0 per 100,000 live births. Of deaths from direct obstetric causes, those from cerebrovascular disease were the most numerous and also the most likely to be underreported. Deaths from pulmonary embolism and indirect obstetric causes were the next most likely to be underreported. In a companion article we report an investigation of whether deaths from causes not directly related to pregnancy -such as injury, infectious disease and epilepsy - are more or less likely to occur among pregnant and recently pregnant women.

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Data Collection
  • Death Certificates
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Mortality*
  • Pregnancy