Pregnancy tests are a cost-effective maternal health intervention

Low-cost, innovative interventions are critical to improving maternal and infant mortality rates in developing countries. A new analysis found that adding pregnancy tests to the family planning services already being delivered in some developing countries can save lives—at little cost.

The analysis focused on Malawi, Madagascar and Ethiopia, but its findings might apply to other countries with similar profiles. Pregnancy tests offer unique benefits because they can simultaneously improve reproductive, maternal and neonatal outcomes—in two key ways:

  1. Reduce the number of women who decline contraception due to uncertainty about their pregnancy status.
  2. Connect pregnant women to prenatal care sooner, and in turn, identify and treat any pregnancy complications earlier.

Mother, baby and health care worker

Credit: Baylor College of Medicine Children's Foundation–Malawi / Robbie Flick (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Previously, urine pregnancy tests, which are easy-to-use and accurate, had been cost-prohibitive, but their cost has fallen to near 10 cents per test. Countries like Malawi, Madagascar and Ethiopia are well-positioned to take advantage of these newly affordable tests because they have programs already effectively delivering other health services locally. Equipping health workers with pregnancy tests would be an easy, scalable addition.

The analysis projects that offering pregnancy test kits would save many lives each year in all three countries. Furthermore, the cost per life saved would classify the intervention as “highly cost-effective” by WHO criteria—a standard few other reproductive or maternal health interventions meet.