Delivery mode for prolonged, obstructed labour resulting in obstetric fistula in East and Central Africa

12 January, 2020

'Over 25 years CS rates rose dramatically in this population of 4396 East and Central African women seeking obstetric fistula repair, even though most babies were stillborn. Increases in CS have been documented in diverse contexts around the world, but this analysis is the first to shed light on the frequency of CS with obstructed labour and stillbirth. It indicates widespread disrespect for international guidelines on how to manage obstructed labour with a dead fetus, illustrating poor quality of care during childbirth... Training programmes, policies and protocols must enable providers to overcome challenges related to knowledge, bias and uncertainty.' Citation and abstract below.

CITATION: Delivery mode for prolonged, obstructed labour resulting in obstetric fistula: a retrospective review of 4396 women in East and Central Africa

CJ Ngongo TJIP Raassen L Lombard J van Roosmalen S Weyers M Temmerman


First published: 17 December 2019


Objective: To evaluate the mode of delivery and stillbirth rates over time among women with obstetric fistula.

Design: Retrospective record review.

Setting: Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Zambia and Ethiopia.

Population: A total of 4396 women presenting with obstetric fistulas for repair who delivered previously in facilities between 1990 and 2014.

Methods: Retrospective review of trends and associations between mode of delivery and stillbirth, focusing on caesarean section (CS), assisted vaginal deliveries and spontaneous vaginal deliveries.

Main outcome measures: Mode of delivery, stillbirth.

Results: Out of 4396 women with fistula, 3695 (84.1%) delivered a stillborn baby. Among mothers with fistula giving birth to a stillborn baby, the CS rate (overall 54.8%, 2027/3695) rose from 45% (162/361) in 1990–94 to 64% (331/514) in 2010–14. This increase occurred at the expense of assisted vaginal delivery (overall 18.3%, 676/3695), which declined from 32% (115/361) to 6% (31/514).

Conclusions: In Eastern and Central Africa, CS is increasingly performed on women with obstructed labour whose babies have already died in utero. Contrary to international recommendations, alternatives such as vacuum extraction, forceps and destructive delivery are decreasingly used. Unless uterine rupture is suspected, CS should be avoided in obstructed labour with intrauterine fetal death to avoid complications related to CS scars in subsequent pregnancies. Increasingly, women with obstetric fistula add a history of unnecessary CS to their already grim experiences of prolonged, obstructed labour and stillbirth.


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