A prospective cause of death classification system for maternal deaths in low and middle-income countries: results from the Global Network Maternal Newborn Health Registry

BJOG. 2018 Aug;125(9):1137-1143. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.15011. Epub 2018 May 21.


Objective: To describe the causes of maternal death in a population-based cohort in six low- and middle-income countries using a standardised, hierarchical, algorithmic cause of death (COD) methodology.

Design: A population-based, prospective observational study.

Setting: Seven sites in six low- to middle-income countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Guatemala, India (two sites), Kenya, Pakistan and Zambia.

Population: All deaths among pregnant women resident in the study sites from 2014 to December 2016.

Methods: For women who died, we used a standardised questionnaire to collect clinical data regarding maternal conditions present during pregnancy and delivery. These data were analysed using a computer-based algorithm to assign cause of maternal death based on the International Classification of Disease-Maternal Mortality system (trauma, termination of pregnancy-related, eclampsia, haemorrhage, pregnancy-related infection and medical conditions). We also compared the COD results to healthcare-provider-assigned maternal COD.

Main outcome measures: Assigned causes of maternal mortality.

Results: Among 158 205 women, there were 221 maternal deaths. The most common algorithm-assigned maternal COD were obstetric haemorrhage (38.6%), pregnancy-related infection (26.4%) and pre-eclampsia/eclampsia (18.2%). Agreement between algorithm-assigned COD and COD assigned by healthcare providers ranged from 75% for haemorrhage to 25% for medical causes coincident to pregnancy.

Conclusions: The major maternal COD in the Global Network sites were haemorrhage, pregnancy-related infection and pre-eclampsia/eclampsia. This system could allow public health programmes in low- and middle-income countries to generate transparent and comparable data for maternal COD across time or regions.

Tweetable abstract: An algorithmic system for determining maternal cause of death in low-resource settings is described.

Keywords: Cause of death; classification; low- and middle-income countries; maternal mortality.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Blacks / statistics & numerical data
  • Cause of Death*
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / epidemiology
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Global Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Guatemala / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Income
  • India / epidemiology
  • Kenya / epidemiology
  • Maternal Death / classification*
  • Maternal Death / etiology
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Pakistan / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / mortality*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data
  • Zambia / epidemiology