Validating the indicator “maternal death review coverage” to improve maternal mortality data: A retrospective analysis of district, facility, and individual medical record data

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Understanding causes and contributors to maternal mortality is critical from a quality improvement perspective to inform decision making and monitor progress toward ending preventable maternal mortality. The indicator “maternal death review coverage” is defined as the percentage of maternal deaths occurring in a facility that are audited. Both the numerator and denominator of this indicator are subject to misclassification errors, underreporting, and bias. This study assessed the validity of the indicator by examining both its numerator—the number and quality of death reviews—and denominator—the number of facility-based maternal deaths and comparing estimates of the indicator obtained from facility- versus district-level data. Methods and findings: We collected data on the number of maternal deaths and content of death reviews from all health facilities serving as birthing sites in 12 districts in three countries: Argentina, Ghana, and India. Additional data were extracted from health management information systems on the number and dates of maternal deaths and maternal death reviews reported from health facilities to the district-level. We tabulated the percentage of facility deaths with evidence of a review, the percentage of reviews that met the World Health Organization defined standard for maternal and perinatal death surveillance and response. Results were stratified by sociodemographic characteristics of women and facility location and type. We compared these estimates to that obtained using district-level data. and looked at evidence of the review at the district/provincial level. Study teams reviewed facility records at 34 facilities in Argentina, 51 facilities in Ghana, and 282 facilities in India. In total, we found 17 deaths in Argentina, 14 deaths in Ghana, and 58 deaths in India evidenced at facilities. Overall, >80% of deaths had evidence of a review at facilities. In India, a much lower percentage of deaths occurring at secondary-level facilities (61.1%) had evidence of a review compared to deaths in tertiary-level facilities (92.1%). In all three countries, only about half of deaths in each country had complete reviews: 58.8% (n = 10) in Argentina, 57.2% (n = 8) in Ghana, and 41.1% (n = 24) in India. Dramatic reductions in indicator value were seen in several subnational geographic areas, including Gonda and Meerut in India and Sunyani in Ghana. For example, in Gonda only three of the 18 reviews conducted at facilities met the definitional standard (16.7%), which caused the value of the indicator to decrease from 81.8% to 13.6%. Stratification by women’s sociodemographic factors suggested systematic differences in completeness of reviews by women’s age, place of residence, and timing of death. Conclusions: Our study assessed the validity of an important indicator for ending preventable deaths: the coverage of reviews of maternal deaths occurring in facilities in three study settings. We found discrepancies in deaths recorded at facilities and those reported to districts from facilities. Further, few maternal death reviews met global quality standards for completeness. The value of the calculated indicator masked inaccuracies in counts of both deaths and reviews and gave no indication of completeness, thus undermining the ultimate utility of the measure in achieving an accurate measure of coverage.