These simple medical interventions could save millions of mothers and babies

Prof Knight leads MBRRACE-UK, the annual investigation into the deaths of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the year after birth in the UK.

Although UK deaths are much lower than in developing world settings, Covid-19 pushed up maternal death rates and some groups are much more likely to die in childbirth in Britain than others.

Its latest data shows that women living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to die as those who live in the most affluent areas; women from black ethnic groups are four times more likely to die than women in white ethnic groups; and women from Asian ethnic backgrounds are almost twice as likely to die. 

Factors including obesity, and the vascular complications it can cause, increase the risk factor for women in Britain and America.

Prof Knight said that maternal health systems in developed and developing nations faced very different challenges but they all needed to better focus on the needs of women as individuals.

“What women need to give birth safely and to have happy and healthy babies is hugely different between relatively young healthy women who have no pre-existing health conditions, no social problems, no difficult circumstances and those who have multiple health conditions and face challenging circumstances,” she said. 

“Their needs are hugely different and yet we have a system [in the UK] which is trying to sort of sit somewhere in the middle and provide the same care for everyone.”

On the innovations recommended by the Gates report for the developing world, Prof Knight thought the idea of using antibiotics prophylactically for large numbers was likely to prove controversial as it could increase antibiotic resistance.

“I do agree that there are groups of women, to whom we should be giving antibiotic prophylaxis, but I think we need a more nuanced approach rather than giving it to everybody,” she said. 

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