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Education and severe maternal outcomes in developing countries: a multicountry cross-sectional survey.

Tunçalp Ö, Souza JP, Hindin MJ, Santos CA, Oliveira TH, Vogel JP, Togoobaatar G, Ha DQ, Say L, Gülmezoglu AM, WHO Multicountry Survey on Maternal and Newborn Health Research Network

  • Journal BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology

  • Published 16 May 2014

  • Volume 121 Suppl 1

  • Pagination 57-65

  • DOI 10.1111/1471-0528.12634


To assess the relationship between education and severe maternal outcomes among women delivering in healthcare facilities.

Cross-sectional study.

Twenty-nine countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Pregnant women admitted to 359 facilities during a period of 2-4 months of data collection between 2010 and 2011.

Data were obtained from hospital records. Stratification was based on the Human Development Index (HDI) values of the participating countries. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were conducted to assess the association between maternal morbidity and education, categorised in quartiles based on the years of formal education by country. Coverage of key interventions was assessed.

Severe maternal outcomes (near misses and death).

A significant association between low education and severe maternal outcomes (adjusted odds ratio, aOR, 2.07; 95% confidence interval, 95% CI, 1.46-2.95), maternal near miss (aOR 1.80; 95% CI 1.25-2.57), and maternal death (aOR 5.62; 95% CI 3.45-9.16) was observed. This relationship persisted in countries with medium HDIs (aOR 2.36; 95% CI 1.33-4.17) and low HDIs (aOR 2.65; 95% CI 1.54-2.57). Less educated women also had increased odds of presenting to the hospital in a severe condition (i.e. with organ dysfunction on arrival or within 24 hours: aOR 2.06; 95% CI 1.36-3.10). The probability that a woman received magnesium sulphate for eclampsia or had a caesarean section significantly increased as education level increased (P < 0.05).

Women with lower levels of education are at greater risk for severe maternal outcomes, even after adjustment for key confounding factors. This is particularly true for women in countries that have poorer markers of social and economic development.