Maternal deaths account for a small proportion of the total deaths among reproductive age women

Carolyn G. Scrafford, James M. Tielsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: For more than 30 years, the focus for women's health in low- and middle-income countries has been on reductions in maternal mortality. This perception was reinforced by the choice of the maternal mortality ratio as the primary indicator for women's health in the Millennium Development Goals. This analysis provides a more objective view by comparing the relative magnitudes of mortality among reproductive age women during pregnancy and the 6-week postpartum period versus other periods during this age range. Materials and Methods: Data were aggregated from 38 countries in three regions with Demographic and Health Surveys that contained a maternal mortality module and were conducted in the prior 10 years to derive the proportion of total mortality ascribed to maternal mortality (proportion maternal [PM]) among women 15-49 years of age in 5-year age groups by country, region, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevalence. Estimates of maternal and nonmaternal deaths were based on the sisterhood method. Age-adjusted PM ranged from 5.7% in Swaziland to 41.7% in Timor-Leste. Regional averages were 14.3% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24.2% in Asia, and 19.8% in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The age-specific pattern of PM showed an increasing trend into the mid-30s followed by a decline. The age-adjusted PM for each country in SSA stratified by HIV prevalence showed an inverse relationship between HIV prevalence and PM with countries with high and low HIV at the lower and upper ends of the PM distribution, respectively. Conclusions: Maternal deaths account for only 6%-40% of all deaths occurring among reproductive age women in a selection of low- and middle-income countries. Although a continued focus and push to reduce maternal mortality is warranted, attention to other causes of death and health issues for women of reproductive age is clearly needed. Research on the causes of death among women and prevention and treatment policies that provide health, education, and nutrition services to women need to be a priority.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-248
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Women's Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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