Original articles

Maternal mortality ratio – trends in the vital registration data

Debbie Bradshaw, Rob E Dorrington


Background. The paucity of quality data on maternal deaths and possible mis-specification of models have resulted in a range of estimates of the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) for South Africa.

Objectives. This paper contrasts the estimates from multi-country models for estimating the MMR with the South African data from vital registration.

Method. A literature review was undertaken to identify estimates of the MMR for South Africa and methodologies used. In addition, cause of death data from Statistics SA were analysed for trends.

Results. In contrast to prediction models used by international agencies, the Health Data Advisory and Co-ordinating Committee (HDACC) recommended the use of the vital registration data adjusted for under-registration and misclassification of causes to monitor maternal mortality. HADCC also recommended that, as is done by the Maternal Mortality Estimation Interagency Group (MMEIG), the number of maternal deaths identified be scaled up by 50% to account for the general under-reporting of maternal deaths. Based on this approach, the baseline MMR in 2008 was estimated to be 310 per 100 000 live births. From vital statistics, the indications are that by 2009, South Africa had not yet managed to reverse the upward trend in MMR. The increase is largely a result of an increase in the number of maternal deaths from indirect causes, as might be expected in the context of the HIV pandemic. However, the number of indirect maternal deaths increased markedly only since 2003, a few years later than the rapid increase in AIDS mortality.

Conclusions. There are opportunities to improve monitoring maternal mortality, including strengthening the information systems (vital registration, the confidential enquiry and the routine health information system) and exploring opportunities for linking data from different sources. Better data on the role of HIV in maternal mortality are needed.

Authors' affiliations

Debbie Bradshaw, Burden of Disease Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Cape Town

Rob E Dorrington, Centre for Actuarial Research, University of Cape Town

Full Text



Maternal mortality; Cause of death;

Cite this article

South African Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2012;18(2):38-42.

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-03-13
Date published: 2012-03-29

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