Infections arising from multiple examination of pregnant women in their birth canals using fingers is to blame for up to 11 per cent of maternal deaths at Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi.
The vaginal examinations, done during labour, were found to infect the most sensitive parts of the birth canal, including the ovaries.
The study covered all mothers admitted for delivery at Pumwani.
Doctors said tests conducted by use of fingers results in puerperal sepsis — a condition that occurs when a new mother experiences an infection occurring at labour or within 42 days after delivery.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), the infections are the sixth-leading cause of death among new mothers.
While discussing the study, Dr Naima Shatry, the principal investigator, said the risks from such infections were highly preventable if the examinations were kept to a minimum.
The study revealed that out of the 793 women recruited; at least 12 per cent suffered from the condition.
The participants were followed up to week two after delivery.
“A majority of the mothers presented with the infection at 50 per cent were between the ages 20 and 24,” said Dr Shatry, adding that housewives were the most affected.
She was speaking during the 40th Ruby Annual Scientific Conference of the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society (Kogs) in Kisumu at the weekend.
Dr Beatrice Kihara, Kogs president, said though the examinations provided crucial information about the position of the baby, there should be a limit. “We acknowledged that it is one of the factors used by the midwives and doctors to assess labour; but it should be done with a range of tools while observing women’s behaviour and the noises they make,” she said.
And because of the pain and trauma it elicits, doctors should minimise the number of times it is done, added Dr Kihara.