A study conducted in 8 European countries with enhanced systems for monitoring maternal mortality and based on comparable data shows that the level of maternal mortality is 4 times higher in Slovakia or the United Kingdom (10.9 and 9.6 /100,000 live births) than in Norway or Denmark (2.7 and 3.4 per 100,000 live births). France ranks 5th out of these 8 countries. Even if obstetric hemorrhage is no longer the leading cause of maternal death in France, it occupies an ever more important place than in other countries. Improving its prevention and treatment must remain a priority in France. Amniotic embolism mortality is also particularly frequent in France compared to other countries and another priority will be to understand why. Finally, as in other countries, cardiovascular disease and suicide are the main causes of maternal mortality, which highlights the importance of improving maternal mental and cardiovascular health.
Diguisto C, Saucedo M, Kallianidis A, Bloemenkamp K, Bødker B, Buoncristiano M, Donati S, Gissler M, Johansen M, Knight M, Korbel M, Kristufkova A, Nyflot LT, Deneux-Tharaux C. Maternal mortality in eight European countries with enhanced surveillance systems: descriptive population based study. BMJ. 2022 Nov 16;379:e070621.
The guardian: UK has second highest maternal death rate in eight-country European study
The Herald Scotland: Maternal mortality in UK higher than most European nations
The Times: New mothers more likely to die in UK than Scandinavia
Objective To compare maternal mortality in eight countries with enhanced surveillance systems.
Design Descriptive multicountry population based study.
Setting Eight countries with permanent surveillance systems using enhanced methods to identify, document, and review maternal deaths. The most recent available aggregated maternal mortality data were collected for three year periods for France, Italy, and the UK and for five year periods for Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Slovakia.
Population 297 835 live births in Denmark (2013-17), 301 169 in Finland (2008-12), 2 435 583 in France (2013-15), 1 281 986 in Italy (2013-15), 856 572 in the Netherlands (2014-18), 292 315 in Norway (2014-18), 283 930 in Slovakia (2014-18), and 2 261 090 in the UK (2016-18).
Outcome measures Maternal mortality ratios from enhanced systems were calculated and compared with those obtained from each country’s office of vital statistics. Age specific maternal mortality ratios; maternal mortality ratios according to women’s origin, citizenship, or ethnicity; and cause specific maternal mortality ratios were also calculated.
Results Methods for identifying and classifying maternal deaths up to 42 days were very similar across countries (except for the Netherlands). Maternal mortality ratios up to 42 days after end of pregnancy varied by a multiplicative factor of four from 2.7 and 3.4 per 100 000 live births in Norway and Denmark to 9.6 in the UK and 10.9 in Slovakia. Vital statistics offices underestimated maternal mortality by 36% or more everywhere but Denmark. Age specific maternal mortality ratios were higher for the youngest and oldest mothers (pooled relative risk 2.17 (95% confidence interval 1.38 to 3.34) for women aged <20 years, 2.10 (1.54 to 2.86) for those aged 35-39, and 3.95 (3.01 to 5.19) for those aged ≥40, compared with women aged 20-29 years). Except in Norway, maternal mortality ratios were ≥50% higher in women born abroad or of minoritised ethnicity, defined variously in different countries. Cardiovascular diseases and suicides were leading causes of maternal deaths in each country. Some other conditions were also major contributors to maternal mortality in only one or two countries: venous thromboembolism in the UK and the Netherlands, hypertensive disorders in the Netherlands, amniotic fluid embolism in France, haemorrhage in Italy, and stroke in Slovakia. Only two countries, France and the UK, had enhanced methods for studying late maternal deaths, those occurring between 43 and 365 days after the end of pregnancy.
Conclusions Variations in maternal mortality ratios exist between high income European countries with enhanced surveillance systems. In-depth analyses of differences in the quality of care and health system performance at national levels are needed to reduce maternal mortality further by learning from best practices and each other. Cardiovascular disease and women’s mental health during and after pregnancy, as well as disparities in maternal risk related to age and social vulnerability, should be considered priorities in all countries.