A Sri Lankan woman who died soon after giving birth on Sunday – Mother’s Day – collapsed suddenly about two hours following delivery after suffering s an “extremely rare” childbirth complication. 

Autopsy results will determine the exact cause of death of the mother, in her 30s, who had carried out IVF in Malta. It is understood that the woman had been living in Malta for several years. 

The news shocked the small Sri Lankan community in Malta with one woman saying: “We got that heartbreaking news. The Sri Lankan community were speaking about it to help them [the family]”.

The matter was raised on Monday when Health Minister Jo Etienne Abela, speaking in parliament, expressed his heartfelt condolences after the mother died just after giving birth at Mater Dei Hospital on Sunday, Mother’s Day. The baby was healthy.

The woman died of medical complications and the result of an autopsy is still pending, he said. Both a magisterial inquiry and an internal inquiry are ongoing.

While the results of the post-mortem are still not public, the health minister told parliament on Tuesday that she did not have any complications during her pregnancy. 

He said he had passed on his condolences to the family of the mother. “I believe both sides of the house can agree this is a human tragedy,” he said.  

Abela confirmed that doctors believe the woman suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. This is a rare but catastrophic condition caused when amniotic fluid enters a woman's bloodstream just before, during or immediately after childbirth.

Abela said it affects two in every 100,000 births and the last recorded case in Malta was 12 years ago. 

“Even under an excellent health care system with extremely competent doctors, midwives and nurses, nature decides to have its way,” Abela said.  

He said the staff at Mater Dei Hospital’s  labour ward were “psychologically impacted” by the tragedy.  “I cannot express my solidarity with the staff enough,” he added.

It is understood that the mother had been undergoing IVF at Mater Dei and so would have been entitled to free medical care.

Meanwhile, Times of Malta learnt that some weeks ago another woman, believed to be from India, died about two weeks after giving birth. It is not clear if she had underlying health conditions.

The maternal mortality ratio in Malta has remained stagnant over the last 20 years roughly around three per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality ratio is the number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes while pregnant or within 42 days of giving birth. In 2022, there were just over 4,700 births in Malta.

Women and migrant organizations questioned whether these stories raised questions about access to healthcare during pregnancy for migrant women and third-country nationals, who must often pay for procedures.

When contacted, the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it could not comment due to the very early stages of the case. It said it was deeply saddened by the death of the two mothers soon after childbirth and expressed its condolences to the families affected. It also promised unwavering care to all women.

Times of Malta sent questions to the Health Ministry asking for more details about the circumstances of the death of the two mothers. Questions included whether the women were under the care of the state hospital throughout their pregnancy and if they paid for the hospital's services given they were third-country nationals.  

A Mater Dei price list for pregnancy and delivery from 2020 shows that third-country nationals must pay more than €256 for normal delivery and up to €2,329 for a cesarean delivery. 

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