Pregnancy-related mortality up to 1 year postpartum in sub-Saharan Africa: an analysis of verbal autopsy data from six countries

Gazeley U, Reniers G, Romero-Prieto JE, Calvert C, Jasseh M, Herbst K, Khagayi S, Obor D, Kwaro D, Dube A, Dheresa M, Kabudula CW, Kahn K, Urassa M, Nyaguara A, Temmerman M, Magee LA, von Dadelszen P, Filippi V
Bjog. 2024;131

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OBJECTIVE: To compare the causes of death for women who died during pregnancy and within the first 42 days postpartum with those of women who died between >42 days and within 1 year postpartum. DESIGN: Open population cohort (Health and Demographic Surveillance Systems). SETTING: Ten Health and Demographic Surveillance Systems (HDSS) in The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Africa. POPULATION: 2114 deaths which occurred within 1 year of the end of pregnancy where a verbal autopsy interview was conducted from 2000 to 2019. METHODS: InterVA5 and InSilicoVA verbal autopsy algorithms were used to attribute the most likely underlying cause of death, which were grouped according to adapted International Classification of Diseases-Maternal Mortality categories. Multinomial regression was used to compare differences in causes of deaths within 42 days versus 43-365 days postpartum adjusting for HDSS and time period (2000-2009 and 2010-2019). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Cause of death and the verbal autopsy Circumstances of Mortality Categories (COMCATs). RESULTS: Of 2114 deaths, 1212 deaths occurred within 42 days postpartum and 902 between 43 and 365 days postpartum. Compared with deaths within 42 days, deaths from HIV and TB, other infectious diseases, and non-communicable diseases constituted a significantly larger proportion of late pregnancy-related deaths beyond 42 days postpartum, and health system failures were important in the circumstances of those deaths. The contribution of HIV and TB to deaths beyond 42 days postpartum was greatest in Southern Africa. The causes of pregnancy-related mortality within and beyond 42 days postpartum did not change significantly between 2000-2009 and 2010-2019. CONCLUSIONS: Cause of death data from the extended postpartum period are critical to inform prevention. The dominance of HIV and TB, other infectious and non-communicable diseases to (late) pregnancy-related mortality highlights the need for better integration of non-obstetric care with ante-, intra- and postpartum care in high-burden settings.