Caesarean section delivery on the rise globally, says WHO

Lara Adejoro and Amarachi Okey

The World Health Organisation says childbirth through caesarean section is increasing globally.

The WHO says its study has shown that the use of caesarean section now accounts for more than 1 in 5 (21 percent) of all childbirths. 

The study titled ‘Trends and projections of caesarean section rates: global and regional estimates’ was published on Wednesday in the BMJ Global Health journal. 

According to the study findings, “Worldwide caesarean section rates have risen from around seven percent in 1990 to 21 percent today, and are projected to continue increasing over this current decade. 

“If this trend continues, by 2030 the highest rates are likely to be in Eastern Asia (63 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (54 percent), Western Asia (50 percent), Northern Africa (48 percent) Southern Europe (47 percent) and Australia and New Zealand (45 percent),” the study said.

The research was based on nationally representative data from countries worldwide and covered the period between 1990 to 2018, drawing from routine health information systems reports and population-based household surveys from 154 countries.

The data represented 94.5 percent of the world’s live births in 2018. The updated data published in 2016 for the first time also includes projections of future trends up to 2030.

The study indicated that caesarean section rate is set to continue increasing over the coming decade, noting that nearly a third (29 percent) of all births are likely to take place by CS by 2030.

While a caesarean section can be an essential and life-saving surgery, it can put women and babies at unnecessary risk of short- and long-term health problems if performed when there is no medical need.

“Caesarean sections are absolutely critical to saving lives in situations where vaginal deliveries would pose risks, so all health systems must ensure timely access for all women when needed,” said Dr. Ian Askew, Director of WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the UN joint programme, HRP. 

“But not all the caesarean sections carried out at the moment are needed for medical reasons. Unnecessary surgical procedures can be harmful, both for a woman and her baby.”

The UN agency noted that caesarean sections can be essential in situations such as prolonged or obstructed labour, fetal distress, or because the baby is presenting in an abnormal position. 

WHO said that, however, as with all surgeries, CS can have risks. These include the potential for heavy bleeding or infection, slower recovery times after childbirth, delays in establishing breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, and increased likelihood of complications in future pregnancies.

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