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Free Content A study of maternal mortality at the University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia: the emergence of tuberculosis as a major non-obstetric cause of maternal death

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SETTING: The Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, Zambia.

OBJECTIVES: To ascertain 1) the non-obstetric causes of maternal mortality, 2) the importance of tuberculosis as a cause of maternal deaths, and 3) the trends in the aetiology of non-obstetric causes of maternal deaths during the past decade in the light of the human immunodeficiency virus epidemic.

DESIGN: A 2-year retrospective study of the aetiology of all maternal deaths occurring at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), Lusaka, Zambia between 1 January 1996 and 31 December 1997. Comparison of these data with available data published between 1974 and 1989.

RESULTS: There were 251 maternal deaths recorded during the study period. Of these, 106 (42%) were due to direct (obstetric) causes and 145 (58%) were due to indirect (non-obstetric) causes. Malaria (30%), tuberculosis (25%) and unspecified chronic respiratory tract infections (22%) accounted for 77% of non-obstetric causes of maternal deaths and 44% of all causes of maternal deaths. The diagnosis of AIDS was closely linked with that of tuberculosis (92% of cases), and unspecified chronic respiratory illnesses (97%), but not with malaria (37%). The maternal mortality ratio for UTH was calculated at 921 per 100000 live births, a significant increase from the 118 noted in 1982 and 667 in 1989.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite improved obstetric services, the maternal mortality ratios at UTH, Lusaka, have increased eight-fold over the past two decades. This dramatic increase is mainly due to non-obstetric causes of death. Malaria and AIDS-associated tuberculosis and unspecified ‘chronic respiratory illnesses’ are now major causes of maternal death in Zambia. Greater emphasis is urgently required on early detection, accurate diagnosis, treatment and prevention of malaria and tuberculosis in pregnancy. Further definition of chronic ‘unspecified’ respiratory illnesses is also required.

Keywords: AIDS; Zambia; antenatal; malaria; maternal mortality; tuberculosis

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Zambia School of Medicine, Lusaka, Zambia 2: UNZA-UCLMS Project, University of Zambia School of Medicine, Lusaka, Zambia 3: Imperial College School of Medicine, National Heart and Lung Institute, London, UK 4: Centre for Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Royal Free and University College Medical School, London, UK

Publication date: 1999-08-01

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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