Objective: We assessed the change over time in the contribution of maternal mortality to a life expectancy calculated between ages 15 and 49, or Reproductive-Aged Life Expectancy (RALE). Our goal was to estimate the increase in RALE in developed countries over the twentieth century and the hypothetical gains in African countries today by eliminating maternal mortality.
Methods: Analogous to life expectancy, RALE is calculated from a life table of ages 15 to 49. Specifically, RALE is the average number of years that women at age 15 would be expected to live between 15 and 49 with current mortality rates. Associated single decrement life tables of causes of death other than maternal mortality are explored to assess the possible gains in RALE by reducing or eliminating maternal mortality. We used population-based data from the Human Mortality Database and the Demographic and Health Surveys.
Findings: In developed countries, five years in RALE were gained over the twentieth century, of which approximately 10%, or half a year, was attributable to reductions in maternal mortality. In sub-Saharan African countries, the possible achievable gains fluctuate between 0.24 and 1.47 years, or 6% and 44% of potential gains in RALE.
Conclusions: Maternal mortality is a rare event, yet it is still a very important component of RALE. Averting the burden of maternal deaths could return a significant increase in the most productive ages of human life.¬†