To quantify the extent of incompleteness and misclassification of maternal and pregnancy related deaths, and to identify general and context-specific factors associated with incompleteness and/or misclassification of maternal death data.
We conducted a systematic review of incompleteness and/or misclassification of maternal and pregnancy-related deaths. We conducted a narrative synthesis to identify methods used to capture and classify maternal deaths, as well as general and context specific factors affecting the completeness and misclassification of maternal death recording. We conducted a meta-analysis of proportions to obtain estimates of incompleteness and misclassification of maternal death recording, overall and disaggregated by income and surveillance system types.
Of 2872 title-abstracts identified, 29 were eligible for inclusions in the qualitative synthesis, and 20 in the meta-analysis. Included studies relied principally on record linkage and review for identifying deaths, and on review of medical records and verbal autopsies to correctly classify cause of death. Deaths to women towards the extremes of the reproductive age range, those not classified by a medical examiner or a coroner, and those from minority ethnic groups in their setting were more likely misclassified or unrecorded. In the meta-analysis, we found maternal death recording to be incomplete by 34% (95% CI: 28–48), with 60% sensitivity (95% CI: 31–81.). Overall, we found maternal mortality was under-estimated by 39% (95% CI: 30–48) due to incompleteness and/or misclassification. Reporting of deaths away from the intrapartum, due to indirect causes or occurring at home were less complete than their counterparts. There was substantial between and within group variability across most results.
Maternal deaths were under-estimated in almost all contexts, but the extent varied across settings. Countries should aim towards establishing Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems where they are not instituted. Efforts to improve the completeness and accuracy of maternal cause of death recording, such as Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths, are needed even where CRVS is considered to be well-functioning.