Reducing intrapartum-related deaths and disability: Can the health system deliver?

Joy E. Lawn, Mary Kinney, Anne C.C. Lee, Mickey Chopra, France Donnay, Vinod K. Paul, Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Massee Bateman, Gary L. Darmstadt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Each year 1.02 million intrapartum stillbirths and 904 000 intrapartum-related neonatal deaths (formerly called "birth asphyxia") occur, closely linked to 536 000 maternal deaths, an estimated 42% of which are intrapartum-related. Objective: To summarize the results of a systematic evidence review, and synthesize actions required to strengthen healthcare delivery systems and home care to reduce intrapartum-related deaths. Methods: For this series, systematic searches were undertaken, data synthesized, and meta-analyses carried out for various aspects of intrapartum care, including: obstetric care, neonatal resuscitation, strategies to link communities with facility-based care, care within communities for 60 million non-facility births, and perinatal audit. We used the Lives Saved Tool (LiST) to estimate neonatal deaths prevented with relevant interventions under 2 scenarios: (1) to address missed opportunities for facility and home births; and (2) assuming full coverage of comprehensive emergency obstetric care and emergency newborn care. Countries were first grouped into 5 Categories according to level of neonatal mortality rate and examined, and then priorities were suggested to reduce intrapartum-related deaths for each Category based on health performance and possible lives saved. Results: There is moderate GRADE evidence of effectiveness for the reduction of intrapartum-related mortality through facility-based neonatal resuscitation, perinatal audit, integrated community health worker packages, and community mobilization. The quality of evidence for obstetric care is low, requiring further evaluation for effect on perinatal outcomes, but is expected to be high impact. Over three-quarters of intrapartum-related deaths occur in settings with weak health systems marked by low coverage of skilled birth attendance (<50%), low density of skilled human resources (<0.9 per 1000 population) and low per capita spending on health (<US $20 per year). By providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care and emergency newborn care for births already occurring in facilities, 327 200 intrapartum-related neonatal deaths could be averted globally, and with full (90%) coverage, 613 000 intrapartum-related neonatal deaths could be saved, primarily in high mortality settings. Conclusion: Even in high-performance settings, there is scope to improve intrapartum care and especially reduce impairment and disability. Addressing missed opportunities for births already occurring in facilities could avert 36% of intrapartum-related deaths. Improved quality of care through drills and audit are promising strategies. However, the majority of deaths occur in poorly performing health systems requiring urgent strategic planning and investment to scale up effective care at birth, neonatal resuscitation, and community mobilization as well as to develop, adapt, and introduce tools, technologies, and task shifting to reach the poorest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S123-S142
JournalInternational Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Issue numberSUPPL.
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • Birth asphyxia/asphyxia neonatorum
  • Health systems
  • Intervention
  • Intrapartum-related neonatal mortality
  • Lives saved
  • Neonatal mortality
  • Prevention
  • Stillbirth
  • Systematic review


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