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OBJECTIVE: To understand the experiences and perceptions of people implementing maternal and/or perinatal death surveillance and response in low- and middle-income countries, and the mechanisms by which this process can achieve its intended outcomes. METHODS: In June 2022, we systematically searched seven databases for qualitative studies of stakeholders implementing maternal and/or perinatal death surveillance and response in low- and middle-income countries. Two reviewers independently screened articles and assessed their quality. We used thematic synthesis to derive descriptive themes and a realist approach to understand the context-mechanism-outcome configurations. FINDINGS: Fifty-nine studies met the inclusion criteria. Good outcomes (improved quality of care or reduced mortality) were underpinned by a functional action cycle. Mechanisms for effective death surveillance and response included learning, vigilance and implementation of recommendations which motivated further engagement. The key context to enable effective death surveillance and response was a blame-free learning environment with good leadership. Inadequate outcomes (lack of improvement in care and mortality and discontinuation of death surveillance and response) resulted from a vicious cycle of under-reporting, inaccurate data, and inadequate review and recommendations, which led to demotivation and disengagement. Some harmful outcomes were reported, such as inappropriate referrals and worsened staff shortages, which resulted from a fear of negative consequences, including blame, disciplinary action or litigation. CONCLUSION: Conditions needed for effective maternal and/or perinatal death surveillance and response include: separation of the process from litigation and disciplinary procedures; comprehensive guidelines and training; adequate resources to implement recommendations; and supportive supervision to enable safe learning.

Original publication




Journal article


Bull World Health Organ

Publication Date





62 - 75G


Pregnancy, Female, Humans, Perinatal Death, Family, Learning, Qualitative Research, Social Problems, Maternal Death