Preventing death following unsafe abortion: a case series from urban Uganda.
BACKGROUND: Maternal deaths from unsafe abortion continue to occur globally, with particularly high rates in Sub-Saharan Africa where most abortions are classified as unsafe. Maternal death reviews are an effective part of cohesive strategies to prevent future deaths while abortion remains illegal. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to conduct maternal death reviews for all deaths occurring following unsafe abortion during the study period, to assess preventability, and to synthesize key learning points that may help to prevent future maternal deaths following unsafe abortions. STUDY DESIGN: Full case reviews of all maternal deaths (350 cases from Jan 2016 to Dec 2018) at the study center (a national referral hospital in urban Uganda) were conducted by specially trained multidisciplinary panels of obstetricians and midwives. We extracted the reviews of women who died following unsafe abortions (13 [2.6%]) for further analysis. RESULTS: Most maternal deaths owing to unsafe abortion were found to be preventable. The key recommendations that emerged from the reviews were (1) that clinicians should maintain a high index of suspicion for delayed presentation and rapid decompensation in cases where unsafe abortion has occurred, (2) that a low threshold for early intravenous antibiotic therapy should be applied, and (3) that any admission with complications following an unsafe abortion merits review by an experienced clinician as soon as possible. CONCLUSION: Postabortion care is part of essential emergency medical care and should be provided with high standards, especially in areas where there is limited or no legal access to abortion care. Implementing the recommended learning points is likely to be feasible even in low-resource obstetrical settings and, given the high rates of preventability found in maternal deaths owing to unsafe abortion, is likely to be effective.