Inadequate lifesaving emergency obstetric services in south-west Ethiopia

Girma M, Yaya Y, Gebrehanna E, Berhane Y, Lindtjorn B. Lifesaving emergency obstetric services are inadequate in south-west Ethiopia: a formidable challenge to reducing maternal mortality in Ethiopia. BMC health services research 2013;13(1):459.

Most maternal deaths take place during labour and within a few weeks after delivery. The availability and utilization of emergency obstetric care facilities is a key factor in reducing maternal mortality; however, there is limited evidence about how these institutions perform and how many people use emergency obstetric care facilities in rural Ethiopia. We aimed to assess the availability, quality, and utilization of emergency obstetric care services in the Gamo Gofa Zone of south-west Ethiopia.

We conducted a retrospective review of three hospitals and 63 health centres in Gamo Gofa. Using a retrospective review, we recorded obstetric services, documents, cards, and registration books of mothers treated and served in the Gamo Gofa Zone health facilities between July 2009 and June 2010.

There were three basic and two comprehensive emergency obstetric care qualifying facilities for the 1,740,885 people living in Gamo Gofa. The proportion of births attended by skilled attendants in the health facilities was 6.6% of expected births, though the variation was large. Districts with a higher proportion of midwives per capita, hospitals and health centres capable of doing emergency caesarean sections had higher institutional delivery rates. There were 521 caesarean sections (0.8% of 64,413 expected deliveries and 12.3% of 4,231 facility deliveries). We recorded 79 (1.9%) maternal deaths out of 4,231 deliveries and pregnancy-related admissions at institutions, most often because of post-partum haemorrhage (42%), obstructed labour (15%) and puerperal sepsis (15%). Remote districts far from the capital of the Zone had a lower proportion of institutional deliveries (<2% of expected births compared to an overall average of 6.6%). Moreover, some remotely located institutions had very high maternal deaths (>4% of deliveries, much higher than the average 1.9%).

Based on a population of 1.7 million people, there should be 14 basic and four comprehensive emergency obstetric care (EmOC) facilities in the Zone. Our study found that only three basic and two comprehensive EmOC service qualifying facilities serve this large population which is below the UN’s minimum recommendation. The utilization of the existing facilities for delivery was also low, which is clearly inadequate to reduce maternal deaths to the MDG target.

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