Reducing maternal mortality in low- and middle-income countries: the Nepalese approach of helicopter retrieval.

Reducing maternal mortality in low- and middle-income countries: the Nepalese approach of helicopter retrieval

Binod Bindu Sharma 1Craig Pennell 2Biraj Sharma 2Roger Smith 3

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Ninety-four percent of global maternal deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The UN has a goal of reducing maternal deaths to <70 per 100,000 live births by 2030, but progress is minimal. Maternal deaths in LMICs are associated with 3 delays in the care of women with obstetrical emergencies: 1) in the family of the woman realizing that her life is at risk, 2) in the transport of the woman to a hospital, and 3) in providing care after arrival at the hospital. These 3 delays function like links in a chain, and failure of any link leads to maternal death. LMICs have characteristics that make it likely that the chain will break. Women in LMICs frequently have low standing, and cultural beliefs often lead to delay in the recognition of obstetrical emergencies. LMICs are characterized by poor roads and long distances to hospitals leading to transport delays. Cultural and other factors also lead to treatment delays when a woman reaches a suitably-equipped and staffed hospital. Nepal has addressed these delays and reduced maternal mortality. Firstly, we have reported in the Journal the use of culturally acceptable approaches to improving the knowledge about antenatal care in remote villages. In the case of Nepal, singing songs related to maternal care proved to be a highly effective strategy. We now report that the government of Nepal has repurposed military helicopters to overcome the tyranny of poor roads to allow rapid transport of women with obstetrical emergencies to a small number of fully-equipped and staffed hospitals. As of June 2023, this service has successfully retrieved 625 women in four and half years. The Nepalese government has included questions on maternal mortality in the 2021 national census, followed by a verbal autopsy. These data indicate a fall in the maternal mortality ratio from 239 in 2016 to 151 in 2021. The efficiency of the triage service continues to improve, suggesting that maternal mortality will continue to fall. This may provide a model that can be implemented in other LMICs and highlights factors that may be responsible for recent increases in the US maternal mortality ratio.

Keywords: helicopter retrievals; low- and middle-income countries; maternal mortality; the 3 delays.

Copyright © 2024 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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