Background. This study examines near-miss obstetric events in African hospitals as to the frequency, nature, and ratio of near miss to death and considers whether these could become useful indicators for monitoring the performance of obstetric services in Africa.
Methods. Prospective or retrospective reviews of medical records were conducted in nine referral hospitals in three countries (Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, and Morocco). We calculated the incidence of near-miss obstetric events, near-miss cases, and maternal deaths related to hemorrhage, hypertensive diseases of pregnancy, dystocia, infections, and anemia and analyzed these according to hospital and timing relative to admission.
Results. The incidence of near-miss cases was varied, and in some hospitals extremely large: from 1% to almost a quarter of all deliveries were near misses. Near-miss cases were 15 times more common than deaths (ranging from a ratio of 9 : 1–108 : 1). Most of the women with near-miss events (NMEs) (83%) were already in a critical condition on arrival at the hospital (range 54–90%), and two in three were referred from another facility. The most frequent types of NMEs were hemorrhage and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy, but anemia was the leading cause in three first referral level hospitals in Benin and Côte d'Ivoire. Near-miss events due to infections were rare.
Conclusions. Near-miss events are extremely common in some African hospitals, with a high proportion arriving in critical conditions. Near-miss events must be estimated separately for those already in a critical condition on arrival and those developing after admission; the first as a good indicator of the effectiveness of emergency referrals and the second as a potential tool for monitoring the performance of obstetric services.