Women with anaemia are twice as likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy compared to pregnant women without the condition, a research has shown.
The research, funded by Bart Charity and the Human Reproduction Programme and which report was recently published in the Lancet Global Health journal, says prevention and treatment of maternal anaemia must remain a global public health and research priority.
The study was led by Queen Mary University of London and involved over 300,000 women across 29 countries, including Nigeria.
The countries where the study covered were Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uganda, and Vietnam.
According to press statement from the university, anaemia affects 32 million pregnant women worldwide, and up to half of all pregnant women in low and middle-income countries.
The research showed that women in low and middle-income countries are at increased risk due to higher rates of dietary iron deficiency, inherited blood disorders, nutrient deficiencies and infections such as malaria, HIV and hookworm.
Lead author, Jahnavi Daru from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Anaemia in pregnancy is one of the most common medical problems pregnant women encounter both in low and high income countries.
“We’ve now shown that if a woman develops severe anaemia at any point in her pregnancy or in the seven days after delivery, she is at a higher risk of dying, making urgent treatment even more important.
“Anaemia is a readily treatable condition but the existing approaches so far have not been able to tackle the problem. Clinicians, policy makers and healthcare professionals should now focus their attention on preventing anaemia, using a multifaceted approach, not just hoping that iron tablets will solve the problem,” said Mr. Daru.
The study, the largest of its kind, looked at World Health Organisation data on 312,281 pregnancies in 29 countries across Latin America, Africa, Western Pacific, Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia.
According to the report, 4,189 women had severe anaemia (a blood count of less than 70 grams per litre of blood) and were matched with 8,218 women without severe anaemia.
Mr. Daru said this analysis is the first to take into account factors that influence the development of anaemia in pregnancy (e.g. blood loss or malaria infection) which may have been skewing the results of previous studies.
The relationship was also seen in different geographical areas using different statistical approaches and this suggests an independent relationship between severe anaemia and maternal death does exist.
Francesca Gliubich, Director of Grants at Barts Charity, said Barts Charity was proud of having contributed to the work.
“The research will help to shape health policies worldwide by providing scientific evidence of the importance of prevention and treatment of maternal anaemia, ultimately saving lives and avoiding preventable deaths,” she added.
According to the researchers, strategies for the prevention and treatment of maternal anaemia include providing oral iron tablets for pregnant women, food fortification with iron, improving access to antenatal care in remote areas, hookworm treatment and access to transfusion services.
The study however has limitations. Due to the observational nature, a direct causal relationship between severe anaemia and maternal death cannot be proven, because other factors may come into play.