Anemia in pregnancy is one of the most common medical problems pregnant women encounter in both low and high income countries. It affects some 32 million pregnant women worldwide each year and is characterized by a lack of red blood cells. Women with severe anemia will have a blood count of less than 70 grams of hemoglobin per litre of blood. It is a dangerous condition and if not prevented or treated correctly can lead to maternal death.
Highlighting the danger, an international study published in May this year, shows that women with severe anemia during pregnancy or up to seven days after delivery have double the risk of dying compared to those who don’t suffer from the condition.
Previous studies had suggested that anemia was strongly associated with maternal death, but they were not clear due to the influence of other clinical factors. This study – the largest of its kind – is the first to control factors that can influence the development of anemia in pregnancy (such as blood loss or malaria infection) and which may have skewed the results of previous studies.
The researchers emphasize that clinicians, policy makers and healthcare professionals should now focus their attention on preventing anemia, using a multifaceted approach, and not just hope that iron tablets will solve the problem.
Although anemia is a readily treatable condition, the existing approaches have so far not been able to tackle the problem, say the researchers who published their study in the MAY/ JUNE 2018 issue of The Lancet Global Health.
For the study they looked at World Health Organization data on 312,281 pregnancies in 29 countries around the world. The study results show that, when all known contributing factors are controlled for, the odds of maternal death are doubled in mothers with severe anemia.
Importantly, the relationship between severe anemia and the increased risk of maternal death is seen in different geographical areas and, by using different statistical approaches, the researchers are able to show an independent relationship between severe anemia and maternal death does exist.
Prior to this research, the absence of robust data showing evidence of the relationship between severe anemia and maternal mortality has led to a relatively low prioritization of anemia as an important condition in its own right. This new research will hopefully motivate health policy makers to sharpen their focus on the prevention of anemia during pregnancy when they shape new policy on the condition.