Background: Caesarean section (CS) rates continue to evoke worldwide concern because of their steady increase, lack of consensus on the appropriate CS rate and the associated additional short- and long-term risks and costs. We present the latest CS rates and trends over the last 24 years.
Methods: We collected nationally-representative data on CS rates between 1990 to 2014 and calculated regional and subregional weighted averages. We conducted a longitudinal analysis calculating differences in CS rates as absolute change and as the average annual rate of increase (AARI).
Results: According to the latest data from 150 countries, currently 18.6% of all births occur by CS, ranging from 6% to 27.2% in the least and most developed regions, respectively. Latin America and the Caribbean region has the highest CS rates (40.5%), followed by Northern America (32.3%), Oceania (31.1%), Europe (25%), Asia (19.2%) and Africa (7.3%). Based on the data from 121 countries, the trend analysis showed that between 1990 and 2014, the global average CS rate increased 12.4% (from 6.7% to 19.1%) with an average annual rate of increase of 4.4%. The largest absolute increases occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean (19.4%, from 22.8% to 42.2%), followed by Asia (15.1%, from 4.4% to 19.5%), Oceania (14.1%, from 18.5% to 32.6%), Europe (13.8%, from 11.2% to 25%), Northern America (10%, from 22.3% to 32.3%) and Africa (4.5%, from 2.9% to 7.4%). Asia and Northern America were the regions with the highest and lowest average annual rate of increase (6.4% and 1.6%, respectively).
Conclusion: The use of CS worldwide has increased to unprecedented levels although the gap between higher- and lower-resource settings remains. The information presented is essential to inform policy and global and regional strategies aimed at optimizing the use of CS.