Médecins Sans Frontières Australia
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia (Doctors Without Borders / MSF)
Maternal death: a preventable tragedy

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Explore our interactive maternal health centre

Scroll over and click on the items to see how they are used to prevent maternal deaths.

Médecins Sans Frontières teams work in hospitals, health centres and clinics to provide medical assistance to women during pregnancy and childbirth and address the issue of maternal mortality.

Heavy-duty vehicles: reaching remote communities

Heavy duty vehicles© Yasuyoshi Chiba/Duckrabbit

Médecins Sans Frontières runs outreach programs where staff travel to communities in remote and rural settings. There, they educate women about the importance of obtaining medical care during pregnancy and childbirth, and encourage them to deliver in health facilities.

Mobile clinics travel to communities and use patient referral systems to identify women presenting with complications. If necessary, staff can transfer pregnant women to a health clinic or hospital where they can receive the appropriate medical care.

Trained staff: for when complications happen

Trained staff© Dominique Beels

The four most common causes of maternal mortality during childbirth would not cause so many deaths if the appropriate treatment could be provided in time by trained staff. For women experiencing complications during or just after delivery, emergency obstetric care administered by qualified staff capable of managing complications can mean the difference between life and death.

A crucial part of Médecins Sans Frontières' programs involves training local staff on how to manage hospital deliveries, including how to identify complications that could develop during labour, and possible methods to prevent or treat them.

If staff are able to monitor women throughout the delivery, they can quickly identify any complications that arise and provide life-saving treatment when it's needed. This could include blood transfusions or caesarian sections, where necessary.

Vacuum extractor: in case of obstructed labour

Vacuum extractor© Yasuyoshi Chiba/Duckrabbit

Obstructed labour causes many maternal deaths, but it can be managed if identified early. Instrumental deliveries using a vacuum extractor or forceps, or caesarean sections can likewise prevent death or significant disability resulting from prolonged obstructed labour. A reusable vacuum extractor costs around $135.

Delivery at a healthcare facility with trained medical staff greatly reduces the risk of death from obstructed labour, where drugs like oxytocin are readily available and can be administered at the appropriate moment.

Sterile delivery set: basic equipment on hand to provide emergency care

Sterile delivery set© P.K. Lee/MSF

The right equipment can help stop complications that arise during labour from becoming life-threatening, and play a crucial role in reducing maternal mortality. A sterile delivery kit includes basic items such as scissors, sterile cord tape and forceps to assist women when labour becomes obstructed. These can be vital in ensuring the survival of mother and baby.

For gynaecological surgery, including caesarean sections, an abdominal surgery kit is used. This costs around $996.

Blood pressure band: detecting the risk of eclampsia

Blood pressure© Espen Rasmussen

Monitoring a woman's blood pressure is a vital part of prenatal care. It can identify those at risk of developing complications such as eclampsia, the third most common cause of maternal mortality. Eclampsia presents as seizures during delivery, and can be prevented and treated using the drug Magnesium Sulphate.

Woman: access to medical care

Woman© Annika Schaefer

Every 90 seconds a woman dies of pregnancy or birth-related complications. This rate could be drastically reduced if more women were able to give birth in a medical facility such as a health clinic, with access to trained medical staff and emergency obstetric care in the event of complications.

The majority of maternal deaths occur just before, during, or just after delivery, often from complications that cannot be predicted such as haemorrhage.

Médecins Sans Frontières' staff are working to reach as many women as possible in the areas in which we work. As well as providing prenatal care, staff help women prepare for complications that could arise during delivery, identify those at risk, and encourage them to deliver in health facilities.

Blood transfusions: reducing the risk of death from haemorrhage

Blood transfusions© Yann Libessart/MSF

Haemorrhage accounts for a quarter of all maternal deaths, but it can be treated with blood transfusions and medications such as oxytocin, which costs around 20 cents per vial. A woman, even in good health, who haemorrhages just after giving birth can die within two hours, especially if she is left without obstetric care.

It is therefore even more critical that women are aware of the importance of delivering in a medical facility, or know of one that can be reached in the event of complications.

Medication: simple treatments on hand for when things go wrong

Medication© Yasuyoshi Chiba/Duckrabbit

One in 20 women giving birth will develop complications or an infection that requires antibiotics. Haemorrhage, septicaemia and eclampsia can all be prevented and treated using medications. One tablet of Misoprostol, used to stop haemorrhage, can be purchased for around 40 cents; Magnesium Sulphate, a drug commonly used to treat eclampsia, costs just $1.60 per unit.

Infant warmer: protecting the life of the newborn

Infant warmer© P.K. Lee/MSF

Infant warmers – a vital piece of equipment worth around $2400 – keep newborns warm after birth, and they are particularly crucial when babies are born prematurely. Thirty per cent of infant deaths occur in the first four weeks of life, the majority in the first few days after delivery. Postnatal care is very important for ensuring the good physical and mental health of both the mother and child.