Rapid reduction of maternal mortality in Uganda and Zambia through the saving mothers, giving life initiative: results of year 1 evaluation

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017 Jan 19;17(1):42. doi: 10.1186/s12884-017-1222-y.


Background: Achieving maternal mortality reduction as a development goal remains a major challenge in most low-resource countries. Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL) is a multi-partner initiative designed to reduce maternal mortality rapidly in high mortality settings through community and facility evidence-based interventions and district-wide health systems strengthening that could reduce delays to appropriate obstetric care.

Methods: An evaluation employing multiple studies and data collection methods was used to compare baseline maternal outcomes to those during Year 1 in SMGL pilot districts in Uganda and Zambia. Studies include health facility assessments, pregnancy outcome monitoring, enhanced maternal mortality detection in facilities, and population-based investigation of community maternal deaths. Population-based evaluation used standard approaches and comparable indicators to measure outcome and impact, and to allow comparison of the SMGL implementation in unique country contexts.

Results: The evaluation found a 30% reduction in the population-based maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Uganda during Year 1, from 452 to 316 per 100,000 live births. The MMR in health facilities declined by 35% in each country (from 534 to 345 in Uganda and from 310 to 202 in Zambia). The institutional delivery rate increased by 62% in Uganda and 35% in Zambia. The number of facilities providing emergency obstetric and newborn care (EmONC) rose from 10 to 25 in Uganda and from 7 to 11 in Zambia. Partial EmONC care became available in many more low and mid-level facilities. Cesarean section rates for all births increased by 23% in Uganda and 15% in Zambia. The proportion of women with childbirth complications delivered in EmONC facilities rose by 25% in Uganda and 23% in Zambia. Facility case fatality rates fell from 2.6 to 2.0% in Uganda and 3.1 to 2.0% in Zambia.

Conclusions: Maternal mortality ratios fell significantly in one year in Uganda and Zambia following the introduction of the SMGL model. This model employed a comprehensive district system strengthening approach. The lessons learned from SMGL can inform policymakers and program managers in other low and middle income settings where similar approaches could be utilized to rapidly reduce preventable maternal deaths.

Keywords: Emergency obstetric care; Low-resource countries; Maternal mortality; Pregnancy complications; Sub-Saharan Africa; Verbal autopsy.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Delivery, Obstetric / methods
  • Delivery, Obstetric / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Facilities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services / organization & administration
  • Maternal Health Services / trends*
  • Maternal Mortality / trends*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Program Evaluation*
  • Uganda
  • Young Adult
  • Zambia