Maternal health

Women in Africa are 50 times more likely to die after C-sections, study finds

A doctor checks a pregnant woman in Salesian Sisters Diocese in Sudan on May 28, 2010. (REUTERS/Mohamed Nurdldin Abdallh)

A troubling new study has found that women in Africa face disproportionately higher risks of death following Caesarean sections than women in wealthier countries. According to NPR, many of the complications would be preventable or easily solved if hospitals were staffed with enough skilled doctors.

The study, published in the Lancet, followed 3,684 mothers from 22 countries who underwent C-sections. Twenty, or 0.5 percent, of the study subjects died, a rate that makes “[m]aternal mortality after Caesarean delivery in Africa … 50 times higher than [the rate] of high-income countries.” One in six mothers developed complications, most often severe operative and post-operative bleeding. That rate is nearly three times higher than it is among women in the United States.

There are a number of factors fueling C-section risks among African patients, according to the study authors. One is understaffed hospitals, which lack the highly trained specialists that provide care to mothers in wealthier nations. More than 10 percent of the women followed by the study died from complications connected to anesthesia, which “just shouldn’t happen if the anesthesia is properly administered,” Ana Langer of Harvard’s Women and Health Initiative told NPR.

Additionally, three quarters of the women required emergency C-sections, suggesting that they were not getting sufficient prenatal care, which can identify problems before the delivery.

Mothers weren’t the only ones affected by these issues. Of the 3,506 infants born to the study subjects, 153 died, which is double the global neonatal mortality rate of 1.9 percent.

Crucial to addressing high rates of mortality and complications following C-sections is improving access to C-sections and making the procedure safer. But implementing these changes is no simple task. Developing techniques that will help struggling hospitals better assess and deal with the needs of expectant mothers is one way to approach the problem, said lead study author Bruce Biccard. But, “increasing our resources twenty-fold all of a sudden just isn’t a viable solution.”

Improving the safety of C-sections for mothers in Africa, he adds, “will take a lot of thinking and innovation and creativity.”

Read more at NPR.

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