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Indirect maternal deaths outnumber direct deaths due to obstetric causes in many high-income countries, and there has been a significant increase in the proportion of maternal deaths due to indirect medical causes in low- to middle-income countries. This review presents a detailed analysis of indirect maternal deaths in the UK and a perspective on the causes and trends in indirect maternal deaths and issues related to care in low- to middle-income countries. There has been no significant decrease in the rate of indirect maternal deaths in the UK since 2003. In 2011-2013, 68% of all maternal deaths were due to indirect causes, and cardiac disease was the single largest cause. The major issues identified in care of women who died from an indirect cause was a lack of clarity about which medical professional should take responsibility for care and overall management. Under-reporting and misclassification result in underestimation of the rate of indirect maternal deaths in low- to middle-income countries. Causes of indirect death include a range of communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases and nutritional disorders. There has been evidence of a shift in incidence from direct to indirect maternal deaths in many low- to middle-income countries due to an increase in non-communicable diseases among women in the reproductive age. The gaps in care identified include poor access to health services, lack of healthcare providers, delay in diagnosis or misdiagnosis and inadequate follow-up during the postnatal period. Irrespective of the significant gains made in reducing maternal mortality in many countries worldwide, there is evidence of a steady increase in the rate of indirect deaths due to pre-existing medical conditions. This heightens the need for research to generate evidence about the risk factors, management and outcomes of specific medical comorbidities during pregnancy in order to provide appropriate evidence-based multidisciplinary care across the entire pathway: pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy and delivery, and postpartum.

Original publication




Journal article


Obstet Med

Publication Date





10 - 15


Indirect maternal death, medical co-morbidities, pregnancy