Background: The health and survival of women and their new-born babies in low income countries has been a key priority in public health since the 1990s. However, basic planning data, such as numbers of pregnancies and births, remain difficult to obtain and information is also lacking on geographic access to key services, such as facilities with skilled health workers. For maternal and newborn health and survival, planning for safer births and healthier newborns could be improved by more accurate estimations of the distributions of women of childbearing age. Moreover, subnational estimates of projected future numbers of pregnancies are needed for more effective strategies on human resources and infrastructure, while there is a need to link information on pregnancies to better information on health facilities in districts and regions so that coverage of services can be assessed.
Methods: This paper outlines demographic mapping methods based on freely available data for the production of high resolution datasets depicting estimates of numbers of people, women of childbearing age, live births and pregnancies, and distribution of comprehensive EmONC facilities in four large high burden countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Satellite derived maps of settlements and land cover were constructed and used to redistribute areal census counts to produce detailed maps of the distributions of women of childbearing age. Household survey data, UN statistics and other sources on growth rates, age specific fertility rates, live births, stillbirths and abortions were then integrated to convert the population distribution datasets to gridded estimates of births and pregnancies.
Results and conclusions: These estimates, which can be produced for current, past or future years based on standard demographic projections, can provide the basis for strategic intelligence, planning services, and provide denominators for subnational indicators to track progress. The datasets produced are part of national midwifery workforce assessments conducted in collaboration with the respective Ministries of Health and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to identify disparities between population needs, health infrastructure and workforce supply. The datasets are available to the respective Ministries as part of the UNFPA programme to inform midwifery workforce planning and also publicly available through the WorldPop population mapping project.