Establishing cause of maternal death in Malawi via facility-based review and application of the ICD-MM classification

BJOG. 2014 Sep:121 Suppl 4:95-101. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.12998.


Maternal death review (MDR) is an accepted process that is implemented across Malawi and 'underlying cause of death' is assigned by healthcare providers using a standard MDR form. Mixed-methods approach. Key informant interviews with eight stakeholders involved in MDR. Secondary analysis of MDR forms for 54 maternal deaths. Comparison of assigned cause of death by healthcare providers conducting MDR at health facility level with cause assigned by researchers using the International Classification of Diseases Maternal Mortality (ICD-MM) classification. MDR teams, analysts and policymakers reported facing challenges in completing the forms, analysing and using information. The concepts of underlying (primary) and contributing (secondary) causes of death are often misunderstood. Healthcare providers using only MDR forms reported cause of death as non-obstetric complications in 39.6% and pregnancy-related infection in 11.3% of cases. For 30.2% of cases, no clear clinical cause of death was recorded. The most commonly assigned underlying cause of death using ICD-MM was obstetric haemorrhage (32.1%), non-obstetric complications (24.5%) and pregnancy-related infection (22.6%). There was poor agreement between cause(s) of maternal death assigned by healthcare providers in the field and trained researchers using the new ICD-MM classification (κ statistic; 0.219). The majority of cases could be reclassified using the ICD-MM and this provided a more specific cause of death. A more structured and user-friendly MDR form is required. Accurate classification of cause of death is important. Dissemination of, and training in the use of the new ICD-MM classification system will be helpful to healthcare providers conducting MDR in Malawi.

Keywords: ICD-MM; maternal death classification; maternal death reviews; maternal deaths.

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Maternal Mortality*
  • Maternal Welfare / statistics & numerical data
  • Population Surveillance / methods