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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Lifesaving emergency obstetric services are inadequate in south-west Ethiopia: a formidable challenge to reducing maternal mortality in Ethiopia

Meseret Girma1, Yaliso Yaya24*, Ewenat Gebrehanna3, Yemane Berhane3 and Bernt Lindtjørn2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Arba Minch University, Arba Minch, Ethiopia

2 Centre for International Health, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

3 Department of Reproductive Health and Nutrition, Addis Continental Institute of Public Health, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

4 Arba Minch College of Health Sciences, Arba Minch, Ethiopia

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:459  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-459

Published: 4 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Most maternal deaths take place during labour and within a few weeks after delivery. The availability and utilization of emergency obstetric care facilities is a key factor in reducing maternal mortality; however, there is limited evidence about how these institutions perform and how many people use emergency obstetric care facilities in rural Ethiopia. We aimed to assess the availability, quality, and utilization of emergency obstetric care services in the Gamo Gofa Zone of south-west Ethiopia.

Methods

We conducted a retrospective review of three hospitals and 63 health centres in Gamo Gofa. Using a retrospective review, we recorded obstetric services, documents, cards, and registration books of mothers treated and served in the Gamo Gofa Zone health facilities between July 2009 and June 2010.

Results

There were three basic and two comprehensive emergency obstetric care qualifying facilities for the 1,740,885 people living in Gamo Gofa. The proportion of births attended by skilled attendants in the health facilities was 6.6% of expected births, though the variation was large. Districts with a higher proportion of midwives per capita, hospitals and health centres capable of doing emergency caesarean sections had higher institutional delivery rates. There were 521 caesarean sections (0.8% of 64,413 expected deliveries and 12.3% of 4,231 facility deliveries). We recorded 79 (1.9%) maternal deaths out of 4,231 deliveries and pregnancy-related admissions at institutions, most often because of post-partum haemorrhage (42%), obstructed labour (15%) and puerperal sepsis (15%). Remote districts far from the capital of the Zone had a lower proportion of institutional deliveries (<2% of expected births compared to an overall average of 6.6%). Moreover, some remotely located institutions had very high maternal deaths (>4% of deliveries, much higher than the average 1.9%).

Conclusion

Based on a population of 1.7 million people, there should be 14 basic and four comprehensive emergency obstetric care (EmOC) facilities in the Zone. Our study found that only three basic and two comprehensive EmOC service qualifying facilities serve this large population which is below the UN’s minimum recommendation. The utilization of the existing facilities for delivery was also low, which is clearly inadequate to reduce maternal deaths to the MDG target.