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Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2004 Nov;87(2):180-7.

Severe acute maternal morbidity in rural South Africa.

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  • 1Bethesda Hospital, Mkuze, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.



Our objective was to identify the frequency, causes, and avoidable factors of severe acute maternal morbidity (SAMM) in four non-specialist hospitals in rural South Africa.


We conducted a prospective audit using criteria for SAMM suited to the diagnostic and treatment facilities available in the primary hospital setting. For each case of SAMM, a local audit team assessed the standard of care against local management guidelines and examined avoidable factors. An external specialist also retrospectively examined avoidable factors.


The facility-based incidence of SAMM was 541 cases per 100,000 births (95% CI 368-767). The commonest organ systems involved were cerebral (42%), coagulation (19%), and vascular dysfunctions (16%). The commonest obstetric diagnoses were eclampsia (39%) and obstetric haemorrhage (32%). Approximately 65% of cases were avoidable.


A qualitative case review audit of SAMM in a non-specialist rural setting appears feasible and sustainable, and provides valuable information towards improving deficiencies in maternal care.

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