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In Australia, 95 maternal deaths were reported in the three year period 2000 to 2002. The report, Maternal deaths in Australia 2000-2002, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) details the numbers and causes of these deaths.

'Among the 95 deaths are eight late maternal deaths, which occurred up to a year after the end of the pregnancy, and three deaths believed to be unrelated to the pregnancy' Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, Director of the AIHW's National Perinatal Statistics Unit at the University of New South Wales, explained.

The report focuses on the 84 deaths related directly and indirectly to pregnancy and birth. Over the three year period the ratio of maternal deaths per 100,000 women who gave birth (called the Maternal Mortality Ratio or MMR) was 11.1 compared to 8.4 per 100,000 women who gave birth in the previous period 1997-1999.

'While there has been an increase in the number of deaths indirectly related to pregnancy or its management from 30 in 1997-1999 to 52 in 2000-2002, the rise is primarily a result of improved reporting of deaths, and changes in the classification of some deaths from incidental to indirect, with the number of incidental deaths falling from 28 to 3 over the same period,' Dr Sullivan said.

The most common causes of maternal deaths overall were from infection, cardiac disease, amniotic fluid embolism, psychiatric events and haemorrhage. While there was a decline in the number of deaths from pulmonary thromboembolism, drug overdoses and motor vehicle accidents.

The maternal mortality ratio for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was 45.9 deaths per 100,000 women who gave birth - a rate 5.3 times that of non-Indigenous Australian women (who had a MMR of 8.7 deaths per 100,000 women who gave birth).

Associate Professor James King, Chair of the AIHW National Advisory Committee on Maternal Mortality said, 'the persisting higher level of mortality experienced by Indigenous mothers is of serious concern, as is the higher overall rates of all cause mortality experienced by Indigenous women of reproductive age.'

Professor King noted that many maternal deaths had not been referred to coroners, with only 56% of maternal deaths being the subject of coronial inquests. 'It is essential that we learn as much as we can from each one of these deaths, so that giving birth in Australia becomes even safer than it is at present,' he said.

18 October 2006

Further information: Dr Elizabeth Sullivan, tel. 02 9382 1014, mob. 0439 994 820, or Associate Professor James King, Chair AIHW National Advisory Committee on Maternal Mortality, mob. 0419 720 281

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue for availability of the Maternal deaths in Australia 2000-2002 report.