Maternal mortality in Malawi, 1977-2012

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Background: Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG 5) targets a 75% reduction in maternal mortality from 1990 to 2015, yet accurate information on trends in maternal mortality and what drives them is sparse. We aimed to fill this gap for Malawi, a country in sub-Saharan Africa with high maternal mortality. Methods: We reviewed the literature for populationbased studies that provide estimates of the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in Malawi, and for studies that list and justify variables potentially associated with trends in MMR. We used all population-based estimates of MMR representative of the whole of Malawi to construct a bestfit trend-line for the range of years with available data, calculated the proportion attributable to HIV and qualitatively analysed trends and evidence related to other covariates to logically assess likely candidate drivers of the observed trend in MMR. Results: 14 suitable estimates of MMR were found, covering the years 1977-2010. The resulting best-fit line predicted MMR in Malawi to have increased from 317 maternal deaths/100 000 live-births in 1980 to 748 in 1990, before peaking at 971 in 1999, and falling to 846 in 2005 and 484 in 2010. Concurrent deteriorations and improvements in HIV and health system investment and provisions are the most plausible explanations for the trend. Female literacy and education, family planning and poverty reduction could play more of a role if thresholds are passed in the coming years. Conclusions: The decrease in MMR in Malawi is encouraging as it appears that recent efforts to control HIV and improve the health system are bearing fruit. Sustained efforts to prevent and treat maternal complications are required if Malawi is to attain the MDG 5 target and save the lives of more of its mothers in years to come.




Colbourn, T., Lewycka, S., Nambiar, B., Anwar, I., Phoya, A., & Mhango, C. (2013). Maternal mortality in Malawi, 1977-2012. BMJ Open.

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