Prospective assessment of mortality among a cohort of pregnant women in rural Malawi

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  • 1 Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, and International Health Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; Ministry of Health and University of Malawi School of Medicine, Blantyre, Malawi
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Maternal mortality has recently received attention as a neglected public health problem in many developing countries where mortality rates are estimated to be 8–200 times those in developed countries. Most maternal mortality estimates in sub-Saharan Africa have used retrospective methods because of the lack of large population-based studies. The Mangochi Malaria Research Project, a trial of antimalarial chemoprophylaxis in pregnant women, provided an opportunity to examine prospectively mortality among the study women. Among 4,053 monitored pregnant women, 27 women were known to have died during pregnancy, labor, delivery and the one-year follow-up period. Three women died during the antenatal period and 12 died within six weeks of delivery for an estimated maternal mortality rate of 370 per 100,000 pregnant women; this rate was consistent with rates reported from retrospective surveys in Malawi. Twelve women died between three and 10 months after delivery, and the mortality rate in this nonmaternal period was estimated to be 341 per 100,000. Mortality rates in the maternal and nonmaternal periods were surprisingly similar. Human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) infection and anemia were strongly associated with death in the nonmaternal period. Mortality among infants of mothers who died was 3.7 times higher than the rate of death among infants born to mothers who survived. This study highlights that for rural Malawian women, pregnancy and delivery are risky periods, that the death of the mother adversely affects the survival of her children, and that HIV and anemia are important contributors to nonmaternal mortality in reproductive-age women. Strategies to reduce mortality among women of child-bearing age in sub-Saharan Africa must focus on decreasing the complications of pregnancy and delivery, and address important preventable causes of death, such as anemia and HIV infection.

Author Notes

Authors’ addresses: Jeanne M. McDermott, Mother Care, John Snow Inc., 1616 N. Fort Myer Drive, 11th Floor, Arlington, VA 22209. Laurence Slutsker, Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop A-38, Atlanta, GA 30333. Richard W Steketee, Epidemiology Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop E-45, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. Jack J. Wirima, University of Malawi School of Medicine and Ministry of Health, Blantyre, Malawi. Joel G. Breman, Division of International Training and Research, Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Building 31, Room B2C 39, Bethesda, MD 20892-2220. David L. Heymann, Emerging and Other Communicable Diseases Programme, World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.