1 519 negligent maternal deaths in 3 years

2012-03-10 16:15

A critical shortage of doctors and nurses trained to deal with childbirth emergencies, and others who ignore standard treatment protocols, meant that 1 519 women died needlessly.

This shocking revelation is contained in the Department of Health’s latest report, called Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in SA, which also found that 4?077 women died of pregnancy-related complications between 2005 and 2007.

Four in 10 of the women who died should have lived because the health workers who attended to them failed to follow standard protocols, including attending to them early and referring them to specialist hospitals.

The report’s findings also revealed that four out of every five women who died due to excessive bleeding after childbirth would have lived if they had been transferred from clinics to hospitals.

Almost half the women who died of pregnancy-related high blood pressure could have lived had their conditions been diagnosed early and their delivery times managed correctly – and this was in spite of the large number of women with the condition attending antenatal classes.

Penina Ochola, country director for the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) in South Africa, said: “It’s a shame that women still die unnecessarily in a country where more than 90% of pregnant women attend antenatal classes and are helped to give birth by nurses.

“Hypertension is preventable and manageable if a pregnant mother reports in early for antenatal check-ups. If quality care is provided at the clinics these deaths can be reduced. Our nurses and obstetricians should be given refresher training to improve skills in diagnostic and management of hypertension during pregnancy,” she said.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi acknowledged that a critical shortage of gynaecologists and specialist midwives at district level contributed to the country’s unacceptably high maternal mortality rate.

The latest official statistics show that the maternal mortality rate almost doubled in the last decade. Statistics jumped from 369 in 2001 to 625 per 100 000 women last year.

Although Motsoaledi blamed HIV and Aids for the increase, he said, “early detection of the problem and referral needs to be improved at our clinics and district hospitals”.

The assessors involved in the confidential inquiry agreed with Motsoaledi, and also expressed concern about the deaths of women at district hospitals and clinics due to high blood pressure complications and uncontrolled bleeding. Nearly seven out of 10 of avoidable deaths of women in these institutions were found to be related to poor diagnosis, delayed referral and sub-standard management.

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