Understanding Maternal Deaths from the Family’s Perspective: Verbal Autopsies in Rural Tanzania

  • GC Webber
  • B Chirangi
Keywords: maternal mortality, verbal autopsy, postpartum hemorrhage.


Maternal mortality rates in rural Tanzania are high. In preparation for the introduction of an intervention to reduce maternal deaths by distribution of misoprostol and erythromycin to women living in rural Rorya District, Mara Region, Tanzania, we conducted a limited verbal autopsy by surveying family members of women who died in childbirth in the previous five years. The purpose of this survey was to understand the circumstances surrounding these deaths. Thirty six family members were interviewed. The majority of the deaths occurred on the roadside as the women made their way to a health facility (23/36). Most of the women were delivered by a TBA (16/36) or family member (13/36). The majority of the family members attributed the death of their loved one to bleeding or retained placenta (32/36). Maternal deaths are common in this rural district of Tanzania because of long distances from the health facilities, difficulty finding transportation, costs of transport and hospital, and women’s beliefs about being able to deliver at home and fear of medication. There is a need for increased education of women and their families about the benefits of childbirth in a health care facility attended by skilled providers. There is also a role for the community distribution of misoprostol to be used as an alternative uterotonic medication if a facility birth is not possible, as the rates of maternal death from hemorrhage are unacceptably high. (Afr J Reprod Health 2014; 18[3]: 128-132)

Keywords: maternal mortality, verbal autopsy, postpartum hemorrhage.


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eISSN: 1118-4841