Uncovering the causes and socio-demographic constructs of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in an urban slum of Karachi

Document Type



Medical College Pakistan; Medicine; Paediatrics and Child Health


Introduction: Neonatal deaths and stillbirths are significant public health concerns in Pakistan, with an estimated stillbirth rate of 43 per 1,000 births and a neonatal mortality rate of 46 deaths per 1,000 live births. Limited access to obstetric care, poor health seeking behaviors and lack of quality healthcare are the leading root causes for stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Rehri Goth, a coastal slum in Karachi, faces even greater challenges due to extreme poverty, and inadequate infrastructure. This study aims to investigate the causes and pathways leading to stillbirths and neonatal deaths in Rehri Goth to develop effective maternal and child health interventions.
Methods: A mixed-method cohort study was nested with the implementation of large maternal, neonatal and child health program, captured all stillbirths and neonatal death during the period of May 2014 till June 2018. The Verbal and Social Autopsy (VASA) tool (WHO 2016) was used to collect primary data from all death events to determine the causes as well as the pathways. Interviews were conducted both retrospectively and prospectively with mothers and caregivers. Two trained physicians reviewed the VASA form and the medical records (if available) and coded the cause of death blinded to each other. Descriptive analysis was used to categorize stillbirth and neonatal mortality data into high- and low-mortality clusters, followed by chi-square tests to explore associations between categories, and concluded with a qualitative analysis.
Results: Out of 421 events captured, complete VASA interviews were conducted for 317 cases. The leading causes of antepartum stillbirths were pregnancy-induced hypertension (22.4%) and maternal infections (13.4%), while obstructed labor was the primary cause of intrapartum stillbirths (38.3%). Neonatal deaths were primarily caused by perinatal asphyxia (36.1%) and preterm birth complications (27.8%). The qualitative analysis on a subset of 40 death events showed that health system (62.5%) and community factors (37.5%) contributing to adverse outcomes, such as delayed referrals, poor triage systems, suboptimal quality of care, and delayed care-seeking behaviors.
Conclusion: The study provides an opportunity to understand the causes of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in one of the impoverished slums of Karachi. The data segregation by clusters as well as triangulation with qualitative analysis highlight the needs of evidence-based strategies for maternal and child health interventions in disadvantaged communities.

Publication (Name of Journal)

PloS One