PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Non-Clinical Medicine - Public Health and Epidemiology - Women's Health

Women's Education Level, Maternal Health Facilities, Abortion Legislation and Maternal Deaths: A Natural Experiment in Chile from 1957 to 2007
Published: Friday, May 04, 2012
Author: Elard Koch et al.

by Elard Koch, John Thorp, Miguel Bravo, Sebastián Gatica, Camila X. Romero, Hernán Aguilera, Ivonne Ahlers


The aim of this study was to assess the main factors related to maternal mortality reduction in large time series available in Chile in context of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


Time series of maternal mortality ratio (MMR) from official data (National Institute of Statistics, 1957–2007) along with parallel time series of education years, income per capita, fertility rate (TFR), birth order, clean water, sanitary sewer, and delivery by skilled attendants were analysed using autoregressive models (ARIMA). Historical changes on the mortality trend including the effect of different educational and maternal health policies implemented in 1965, and legislation that prohibited abortion in 1989 were assessed utilizing segmented regression techniques.


During the 50-year study period, the MMR decreased from 293.7 to 18.2/100,000 live births, a decrease of 93.8%. Women's education level modulated the effects of TFR, birth order, delivery by skilled attendants, clean water, and sanitary sewer access. In the fully adjusted model, for every additional year of maternal education there was a corresponding decrease in the MMR of 29.3/100,000 live births. A rapid phase of decline between 1965 and 1981 (-13.29/100,000 live births each year) and a slow phase between 1981 and 2007 (-1.59/100,000 live births each year) were identified. After abortion was prohibited, the MMR decreased from 41.3 to 12.7 per 100,000 live births (-69.2%). The slope of the MMR did not appear to be altered by the change in abortion law.


Increasing education level appears to favourably impact the downward trend in the MMR, modulating other key factors such as access and utilization of maternal health facilities, changes in women's reproductive behaviour and improvements of the sanitary system. Consequently, different MDGs can act synergistically to improve maternal health. The reduction in the MMR is not related to the legal status of abortion.