Some countries  choose to include questions on deaths to sisters in the DHS questionnaire to calculate maternal mortality. (Photo credit: © 2007 Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs, Courtesy of Photoshare)

What is maternal mortality?

Maternal mortality represents deaths to women that occur during the reproductive process, meaning during pregnancy, childbirth, or within 2 months of after the birth of termination of a pregnancy.

How does DHS collect data on maternal mortality?

The maternal mortality module is not always included in DHS surveys due to the difficulty of collecting the information. The methodology for collecting maternal mortality data is to ask, female respondents to list all their siblings, that is, all the children born to their mother starting with the first born, and whether or not each of these siblings was still alive at the time of the survey. The current age is collected for those who were still alive, and additional information was sought on the year of death and age at death of deceased siblings. To establish whether deaths were maternity-related, respondents are further asked questions for all sisters who died at age 12 or older: "Was [NAME OF SISTER] pregnant when she died?"; and if not, "Did she die during childbirth?"; and if not, "Did she die within two months after the end of a pregnancy or childbirth?"

What are the DHS indicators related to maternal mortality?

  • Maternal mortality ratio is the ratio of the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The MMR is used as a measure of the quality of a health care system.
  • Age-specific mortality rates are calculated by dividing the number of maternal deaths by woman-years of exposure. Maternal mortality data should always be interpreted with caution because of the small number of events. Trend data especially should be viewed with care.


Photo credit: © 2007 Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs, Courtesy of Photoshare. Mothers meet in a courtyard in Bangladesh.