Caesarean sections are increasing, according to the latest data from WHO

on 23 June 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has found in their latest research that caesarean sections are increasing globally, accounting for 1 in 5 of all childbirths.

The research projects that this number could increase to nearly a third of all childbirths by 2030.

It was found that there are significant discrepancies in women’s access to caesarean sections depending on geographical location. In the least developed countries, about 8% of women gave birth by caesarean section with only 5% in sub-Saharan Africa, indicating lack of access to this surgery.

Caesarean rates in Latin America and the Caribbean currently accounts for 4 in 10 (43%) of all births.

In the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Cyprus, Egypt and Turkey, caesarean sections now outnumber vaginal deliveries.

Director of WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the UN joint programme HRP, Dr Ian Askew, said: “Caesarean sections are absolutely critical to save lives in situations where vaginal deliveries would pose risks, so all health systems must ensure timely access for all women when needed. But not all 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 risk of having a caesarean section include potential for heavy bleeding or infection, slower recovery times following childbirth, delays in establishing breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, and increased chances of complications in future pregnancies.

According to WHO, caesarean sections have increased from 7% in 1990 to 21% today, with a projection to increase over this current decade.

It is projected from this research that rates in Eastern Asia could increase to 63%, Latin America and the Caribbean 54%, Western Asia 50%, Northern Africa 48%, Southern Europe 47%, and Australia and New Zealand 45%.

Reasons for high caesarean rates vary widely between countries. The main drivers include health sector policies and financing, cultural norms, perceptions and practices, rates of preterm births, and quality of healthcare.

Medical Officer at WHO and HRP, Dr Ana Pilar Betran, said: “It’s important for all women to be able to talk to healthcare providers and be part of the decision making on their birth, receiving adequate information including the risks and benefits. Emotional support is a critical aspect of quality care throughout pregnancy and childbirth.”

The research ‘Trends and projections of caesarean section rates: global and regional estimates’ can be found on the BMJ Global Health website here.