Purpose: We sought to determine the causes and characteristics maternal deaths that occur in health facilities in Malawi.
Methods: Forty-three maternal deaths were reviewed in 9 hospitals in 3 districts in Central Malawi over a 1-year period. Causes and avoidable factors of maternal deaths were identified during the review, and recommendations made and implemented.
Main findings: There were 28 (65.1%) direct obstetric deaths and 15 (34.9%) indirect obstetric deaths. The major causes of maternal deaths were postpartum hemorrhage (25.6%), postpartum sepsis (16.3%), HIV/AIDS (16.3%), ruptured uterus (7.0%), complications of abortion (7.0%), anemia (7.0%), antepartum hemorrhage (4.7), and eclampsia (4.7). Two thirds of the women were referred either from another health facility (51.2%) or by a traditional birth attendant (TBA; 11.6%), and up to 79.1% were critically ill on admission. Four groups of factors that contributed to maternal deaths were identified: 1) health worker factors, 2) administrative factors, 3) patient/family factors, and 4) TBA factors. The major health worker factors were inadequate resuscitation (69.8%), lack of obstetric life-saving skills (60.5%), inadequate monitoring (55.8%), initial assessment incomplete (46.5%), and delay in starting treatment (46.5%). The most common administrative factor was lack of blood for transfusion (20.9%). The major problems encountered include shortage of staff and other resources, difficulty in maintaining anonymity, poor quality of data, and difficulty in implementing recommendations.
Conclusion: Adequate training on obstetric life-saving skills, addressing HIV/AIDS, and raising community awareness could be important factors for reducing maternal mortality in Malawi and countries with similar socioeconomic profiles.