The study looked at deaths during pregnancy and within six weeks following birth in the UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Slovakia. The lowest mortality rate was in Norway with 2.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births with the UK had a rate more than three times higher at 9.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
The leading causes of death were cardiovascular diseases and suicide. The authors noted that cardiovascular and mental health should be areas of focus in future, while acknowledging the challenge of co-ordinating different medical specialisms in managing the health of women before, during and immediately following pregnancy.
Deaths also continued to occur because of conditions directly related to pregnancy and birth, including obstetric haemorrhage and hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorders of pregnancy.
The authors suggested a possible combination of reasons for the disparity, including differences in the quality of healthcare services and the differing sociodemographic make-up of the countries studied. An in-depth analysis of differences in the quality of care and health system performance at national levels was recommended.
The report also confirmed earlier research regarding inequalities in maternal health outcomes related to ethnicity, with women from minority ethnic backgrounds overall having significantly higher mortality rates.
When someone dies during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth, the impact on the family is clearly devastating. As this study highlights, the co-ordination of care between medical specialities and improved quality of maternal healthcare overall could help to prevent future tragedies.
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