Measuring maternal mortality through the population census: examples from Africa

Kenneth Hill, Harvard University
Cynthia Stanton, Johns Hopkins University
Carla AbouZahr, World Health Organization (WHO)

Reducing maternal mortality is a key Millennium Development Goal, but the measurement of indicators to track progress has proved problematic. Levels of maternal mortality remain high in many developing countries and evidence of progress is hard to detect, especially in low income settings. A number of survey approaches to measurement (for example sibling histories) have been developed, but results are affected by large sampling and non-sampling errors. Population censuses can serve as an important data source for countries lacking other sources, with potential to produce sub-national and socio-economic differentials in maternal mortality. However, non-sampling errors remain an issue, and careful data evaluation is essential. We present an evaluation of census data for estimating maternal mortality from recent censuses in Benin, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The results suggest that the population census, given recent advances in data evaluation and adjustment methods, is a promising approach to monitoring maternal mortality.

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Presented in Session 28: Methodological issues in estimating maternal mortality