Anemia -- a condition characterised by the lack of healthy red blood cells -- affects 32 million pregnant women worldwide and up to half of all pregnant women in low and middle-income countries.
‘Pregnant women in low and middle-income countries are at an increased risk of anemia due to higher rates of dietary iron deficiency, inherited blood disorders, nutrient deficiencies and infections such as malaria, HIV, and hookworm.’
The study, led by one of an Indian-origin and published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, showed that the odds of maternal death were twice as high in those with severe anemia compared with those without severe anemia.
Severe anemia was defined as antenatal or postnatal haemoglobin concentrations of less than 70 g/L in a blood sample obtained before death.
"If a woman develops severe anemia at any point in her pregnancy or in the seven days after delivery, she is at a higher risk of dying, making urgent treatment even more important," said Jahnavi Daru, a post-doctoral student at London's Queen Mary University.
"Anemia is a readily treatable condition but the existing approaches so far have not been able to tackle the problem. Clinicians, policy makers, and healthcare professionals should now focus their attention on preventing anemia, using a multifaceted approach, not just hoping that iron tablets will solve the problem," Daru said.
Strategies for the prevention and treatment of maternal anemia include providing oral iron tablets for pregnant women, food fortification with iron, improving access to antenatal care in remote areas, hookworm treatment, and access to transfusion services, the researchers added.
For the study, the team looked at World Health Organization (WHO) data on 3,12,281 pregnancies in 29 countries across Latin America, Africa, Western Pacific, Eastern Mediterranean, and South East Asia.
Of these, 4,189 women had severe anemia and were matched with 8,218 women without severe anemia.