One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is to reduce the deaths of mothers by 2015, but until now South Africa has failed to do so.
A report looking at South African MDG progress used data from the Community Survey of 2007 (from StatsSA) and found that 625 mothers died for every 100 000 live births.
In addition to this, the National Committee on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths (NCCEMD) found that 3 959 cases maternal deaths were reported between 2005 and 2007. This was a 20,1 percent increase from their previous report. This is a far cry from the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015.
Non-pregnancy related infections were the leading cause of death amounting to 43,7 percent. More than a third (33,7%) of the deaths were associated with hypertension, obstetric haemorrhage and pregnancy related sepsis.
Other causes included abortion related deaths and acute collapse both accounting for 3,4 and 3,2 percent respectively.
Researchers said HIV could mask the common causes of maternal deaths such as pregnancy related sepsis.
SAHR authors explained that the high rates of direct obstetric causes of death in HIV positive women could be attributed to the level and quality of care given to HIV positive women by health care workers. Part of this was the perception that there is nothing more that could be done to help these women.
Researchers said increased attention was given to programmes such as Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV to save babies but less on managing opportunistic infections or ensuring pregnant women accessed treatment.
The SAHR said that preventing maternal mortality rested on the proper functioning of the entire health care system. This includes primary health care clinics providing effective antenatal care and tertiary hospitals with sufficient Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds.
The SAHR authors concluded that South Africa’s high non-pregnancy infection rates, mainly HIV, were some of the features that set it apart from other countries that are doing well towards reaching MDGs.