Bulletin of the World Health Organization

A comprehensive assessment of maternal deaths in Argentina: translating multicentre collaborative research into action

Silvina Ramos, Ariel Karolinski, Mariana Romero, Raúl Mercer


To perform a comprehensive assessment of maternal mortality in Argentina, the ultimate purpose being to strengthen the surveillance system and reorient reproductive health policies to prevent maternal deaths.


Our multicentre population-based study combining qualitative and quantitative methodologies included a descriptive analysis of under-registration and distribution of causes of death, a case–control study to identify risk factors in health-care delivery and verbal autopsies to analyse social determinants associated with maternal deaths.


A total of 121 maternal deaths occurred during 2002. The most common causes were abortion complications (27.4%), haemorrhage (22.1%), infection/sepsis (9.5%), hypertensive disorders (8.4%) and other causes (32.6%). Under-registration was 9.5% for maternal deaths (n = 95) and 15.4% for late maternal deaths (n = 26). The probability of dying was 10 times greater in the absence of essential obstetric care, active emergency care and qualified staff, and doubled with every 10-year increase in age. Other contributing factors included delays in recognizing “alarm signals”; reluctance in seeking care owing to desire to hide an induced abortion; delays in receiving timely treatment due to misdiagnosis or lack of supplies; and delays in referral/transportation in rural areas.


A combination of methodologies is required to improve research on and understanding of maternal mortality via the systematic collection of health surveillance data. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive intervention to address public health and human rights issues in maternal mortality, and our results contribute to the consensus-building necessary to improve the existing surveillance system and prevention strategies.