On World Sepsis Day, Let’s Focus on Mothers and Newborns

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By: Sarah Hodin, MPH, CD(DONA), LCCE, National Senior Manager of Maternal Newborn Health Programs, Steward Health Care

13 September is World Sepsis Day, an opportunity for the global health community to recognize the burden of this morbidity and build momentum for prompt action. Sepsis, which is a result of the body’s response to infection, is responsible for roughly 11% of maternal deaths and 8% of newborn deaths worldwide.

The Global Maternal and Neonatal Sepsis Initiative

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Jhpiego, with the support of other partners, recently launched the Global Maternal and Neonatal Sepsis Initiative to accelerate progress towards ending preventable maternal and neonatal deaths from sepsis under the Sustainable Development Goals.


  • Raise awareness about maternal and neonatal sepsis among health care providers, policymakers and the public
  • Assess the burden and management of maternal and neonatal sepsis at the global scale
  • Develop and test effective strategies to prevent, detect and successfully manage maternal and neonatal sepsis

Priority areas of work

  • Strengthening health programs
  • Research, development and evidence generation
  • Innovations
  • Global advocacy

In one of its first tasks, the Global Maternal and Neonatal Sepsis Initiative working group conducted a literature review and technical consultation to update WHO’s definition of maternal sepsis: “Maternal sepsis is a life-threatening condition defined as organ dysfunction resulting from infection during pregnancy, child-birth, post-abortion or postpartum period.”

Today also marks the start of the Initiative’s Global Maternal Sepsis Study, an effort to validate the new maternal sepsis definition and collect data from health facilities in about fifty countries related to the burden and management of maternal and neonatal sepsis. Vanessa Brizuela, a DrPH student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a researcher with the Global Maternal Sepsis Study, pointed out:

“Sepsis is a real public health issue, in its broadest sense. Not only does it require specific clinical interventions such as securing responsible antibiotics and providing timely management of complications, but it also requires concerted efforts from the health system as a whole in promoting hand-washing, ensuring clean birth practices and addressing overcrowding of labor wards.”

Collaboration with maternal health providers, facilities, professional associations, researchers and other stakeholders will be critical to the implementation and scale-up of interventions to prevent and manage maternal and neonatal sepsis globally.

Read the World Health Organization’s statement on maternal sepsis.

Check out the “Strategies Toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality” report.

Access resources from the World Sepsis Congress Spotlight: Maternal and Neonatal Sepsis, an online event that was hosted by the World Health Organization and the Global Sepsis Alliance.

Learn more about the global causes of maternal mortality on the Maternal Health Task Force’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page.