The prevalence, risk factors and outcomes of anaemia in South African pregnant women: A systematic review and meta-analysis


Background: Anaemia is associated with maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality. The pooled prevalence of anaemia in the South African (SA) pregnant population was ascertained by systematically reviewing available literature. Severity, risk factors (HIV, tuberculosis, race, province, year of study), maternal morbidity and mortality (hypertensive disorders of pregnancy), birth outcomes (including low birth weight) and supplementation during pregnancy were also described. Methods: Eligible studies reported on haemoglobin concentration or prevalence of anaemia in a SA pregnant population and were available in full text. Case-control and estimation studies were excluded with no restriction on the date of publication. PubMed, CINAHL, EMBASE, EBSCO, Ovid maternity and infant care databases, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Web of Science and SCOPUS were searched, using the keywords ‘anaemia’, ‘haemoglobin’, ‘pregnancy’, ‘South Africa’. Risk of bias was conducted using the Hoy tool and the Doi plot and LFK ratio. Overall study quality was assessed using the GRADE tool. Due to heterogeneity amongst studies subgroup analyses were performed (random effects and quality effects model) using MetaXL addon tool for Microsoft Excel. Results: The initial search yielded 7010 articles and 26 were selected for inclusion. Twenty studies were cross-sectional, three were longitudinal and one a randomised control trial. Studies ranged in publication year from 1969 to 2020. The pooled prevalence of anaemia in pregnant women in SA was determined to be 31% (95% CI, 23–40%). Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and low birth weight were associated with anaemia. While iron deficiency was reported as the main cause, other risk factors included HIV and other infections. Discussion: LimitationsThere was limited data reporting on prevalence of anaemia and direct maternal and foetal outcomes. Heterogeneity amongst studies was not explained by subgroup analysis. Majority of cross-sectional study designs reduced the ability to infer causality.InterpretationWhile the prevalence of anaemia remains high and of concern, risk factors are varied. Iron deficiency is still common but the presence of comorbidities also contributes to anaemia and should not be ignored. More longitudinal research into associations between anaemia and birth outcomes is needed due to a lack of available evidence.


Dorsamy V, Bagwandeen C, Moodley J




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Epidemiology
  • Population(s)
    • Women
  • Co-morbidities
    • Other


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