Maternal morbidity: Neglected dimension of safe motherhood in the developing world

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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In safe motherhood programming in the developing world, insufficient attention has been given to maternal morbidity, which can extend well beyond childbirth. For every woman who dies of pregnancy-related causes, an estimated 20 women experience acute or chronic morbidity. Maternal morbidity adversely affects families, communities and societies. Maternal morbidity has multiple causes, with duration ranging from acute to chronic, severity ranging from transient to permanent and with a range of diagnosis and treatment options. This article addresses six selected relatively neglected aspects of maternal morbidity to illustrate the range of acute and chronic morbidities that can affect women related to pregnancy and childbearing that are prevalent in developing countries: anaemia, maternal depression, infertility, fistula, uterine rupture and scarring and genital and uterine prolapse. Based on this review, recommendations to reduce maternal morbidity include: expand the focus of safe motherhood to explicitly include morbidity; improve data on incidence and prevalence of maternal morbidity; link mortality and morbidity outcomes and programming; increase access to facility- and community-based maternal health care and reproductive health care; and address the antecedents to poor maternal health through a lifecycle approach.