Background. Underreporting and misclassification of maternal deaths are universal. The purposes of this study were to quantify the level of underestimation of maternal mortality and to analyze possible factors that contribute to underreporting and misclassification of maternal mortality.
Methods. An interview census of all registered deaths that occurred during 1984-1988 in women of reproductive age was undertaken in Taiwan. Pregnancy-related deaths were screened from all collected questionnaires and death certificates by the researchers. The screened pregnancy-related deaths were then reviewed and evaluated by obstetrician-gynecologists; a cause of each death was assigned.
Results. For the five years, on average, the rate of underreporting of maternal mortality is 58.38% and the correct/confirmed rate of classification is 53.28%. Underreported and mis-classified maternal deaths are more likely for women aged 20-24, with stillbirth and fetal death, care sought for non-obstetric reasons, care received in private hospitals and clinics, occurrence in the home, certification by non-obstetrician-gynecologists and court doctors, and death from non-obstetric causes.
Conclusions. This study shows the limitations of official vital registration and concludes that dependence on death certificates alone to identify maternal deaths is incomplete and incorrect.