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WHO Statement on caesarean section rates: World Health Organization Human Reproduction Programme, 10 April 2015.

In English: WHO_RHR_15.02_eng.pdf?ua=1

In Spanish: WHO_RHR_15.02_spa.pdf?ua=1

In French: WHO_RHR_15.02_fre.pdf?ua=1

In Portuguese: WHO_RHR_15.02_por.pdf?ua=1

In Chinese: WHO_RHR_15.02_chi.pdf?ua=1

Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered the ideal rate for caesarean sections to be between 10% and 15%. Since then, caesarean sections have become increasingly common in both developed and developing countries. When medically justified, a caesarean section can effectively prevent maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity. However, there is no evidence showing the benefits of caesarean delivery for women or infants who do not require the procedure. As with any surgery, caesarean sections are associated with short and long term risk which can extend many years beyond the current delivery and affect the health of the woman, her child, and future pregnancies. These risks are higher in women with limited access to comprehensive obstetric care.

In recent years, governments and clinicians have expressed concern about the rise in the numbers of caesarean section births and the potential negative consequences for maternal and infant health. In addition, the international community has increasingly referenced the need to revisit the 1985 recommended rate.

Caesarean section rates at the population level

WHO conducted two studies: a systematic review of available studies that had sought to find the ideal caesarean rate within a given country or population, and a worldwide country-level analysis usingthe latest available data. Based on this available data, and using internationally accepted methods to assess the evidence with the most appropriate analytical techniques, WHO concludes:

1. Caesarean sections are effective in saving maternal and infant lives, but only when they are required for medically indicated reasons.

2. At population level, caesarean section rates higher than 10% are not associated with reductions in maternal and newborn mortality rates.

3. Caesarean sections can cause significant and sometimes permanent complications, disability or death particularly in settings that lack the facilities and/or capacity to properly conduct safe surgery and treat surgical complications. Caesarean sections should ideally only be undertaken when medically necessary.

4. Every effort should be made to provide caesarean sections to women in need, rather than striving to achieve a specific rate.

5. The effects of caesarean section rates on other outcomes, such as maternal and perinatal morbidity, paediatric outcomes, and psychological or social well-being, are still unclear. More research is needed to understand the health effects of caesarean section on immediate and future outcomes.

Caesarean section rates at the hospital level and the need for a universal classification system

There is currently no internationally accepted classification system for caesarean section that would allow meaningful and relevant comparisons of caesarean section rates across different facilities, cities or regions. Among the existing systems used to classify caesarean sections, the 10-group classification (also known as the 'Robson classification') has in recent years become widely used in many countries. In 2014, WHO conducted a systematic review of the experience of users with the Robson classification to assess the pros and cons of its adoption, implementation and interpretation, and to identify barriers, facilitators and potential adaptations or modifications.

WHO proposes the Robson classification system as a global standard for assessing, monitoring and comparing caesarean section rates within healthcare facilities over time, and between facilities. In order to assist healthcare facilities in adopting the Robson classification, WHO will develop guidelines for its use, implementation and interpretation, including standardisation of terms and definitions.

Doi: 10.1016/j.rhm.2015.07.007

Editor's note: The key message of the statement below is that, rather than striving to achieve any specific rate of caesarean section, efforts should focus on ensuring delivery of caesarean sections to women in need. Caesarean section should only be conducted when medically necessary, as surgery such as this can cause complications, especially in settings that lack facilities or capacities to conduct safe surgery or treat complications.

The implication of this message is that health care facilities should monitor caesarean section rates in a reliable way, for planning and quality control purposes. WHO proposes the Robson classification system * as a global standard for assessing, monitoring and comparing caesarean section rates.

* The Robson system classifies all deliveries into one of ten groups on the basis of obstetric history, onset of labour, fetal lie, number of neonates, and gestational age.
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Title Annotation:STATEMENTS
Publication:Reproductive Health Matters
Date:May 1, 2015
Previous Article:Statement on the 48th Session of the UN Commission on Population and Development, 27 April 2015.
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