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Immunology - Infectious Diseases - Obstetrics - Pediatrics and Child Health - Public Health and Epidemiology

Background Rates of Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes for Assessing the Safety of Maternal Vaccine Trials in Sub-Saharan Africa
Published: Thursday, October 04, 2012
Author: Lauren A. V. Orenstein et al.

by Lauren A. V. Orenstein, Evan W. Orenstein, Ibrahima Teguete, Mamoudou Kodio, Milagritos Tapia, Samba O. Sow, Myron M. Levine


Maternal immunization has gained traction as a strategy to diminish maternal and young infant mortality attributable to infectious diseases. Background rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes are crucial to interpret results of clinical trials in Sub-Saharan Africa.


We developed a mathematical model that calculates a clinical trial's expected number of neonatal and maternal deaths at an interim safety assessment based on the person-time observed during different risk windows. This model was compared to crude multiplication of the maternal mortality ratio and neonatal mortality rate by the number of live births. Systematic reviews of severe acute maternal morbidity (SAMM), low birth weight (LBW), prematurity, and major congenital malformations (MCM) in Sub-Saharan African countries were also performed.


Accounting for the person-time observed during different risk periods yields lower, more conservative estimates of expected maternal and neonatal deaths, particularly at an interim safety evaluation soon after a large number of deliveries. Median incidence of SAMM in 16 reports was 40.7 (IQR: 10.6–73.3) per 1,000 total births, and the most common causes were hemorrhage (34%), dystocia (22%), and severe hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (22%). Proportions of liveborn infants who were LBW (median 13.3%, IQR: 9.9–16.4) or premature (median 15.4%, IQR: 10.6–19.1) were similar across geographic region, study design, and institutional setting. The median incidence of MCM per 1,000 live births was 14.4 (IQR: 5.5–17.6), with the musculoskeletal system comprising 30%.


Some clinical trials assessing whether maternal immunization can improve pregnancy and young infant outcomes in the developing world have made ethics-based decisions not to use a pure placebo control. Consequently, reliable background rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes are necessary to distinguish between vaccine benefits and safety concerns. Local studies that quantify population-based background rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes will improve safety assessment of interventions during pregnancy.