Probe sheds light on Italy childbirth deaths

Italy's health ministry said on Tuesday that probes into a spate of women dying in childbirth had uncovered issues in the handling of three fatal cases, but stopped short of suggesting lives might have been saved.

Probe sheds light on Italy childbirth deaths
Probes into a spate of women dying in childbirth had uncovered issues in the handling of three fatal cases. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Italy, which has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, suffered five deaths in seven days between December 25th and 31st.

That led some doctors to suggest staff shortages and cutbacks were endangering patients lives over the holiday period.

Leading gynaecologists suggested some of the patients might have been saved through better screening of older and overweight pregnant women at risk of thrombosis or heart problems.

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin ordered investigations into four of the five deaths, resulting in the preliminary report on Tuesday.

It said all appropriate procedures appeared to have been followed in the case of Angela Nesta, 39, who suffered a cardiac arrest leading to a still birth during her labour in a Turin clinic on December 29th.

In the other three cases, the report highlighted communication and organizational problems in the response to emergencies without suggesting that life-or-death mistakes had been made.

It talks of “some misalignment” in staff accounts of the treatment of 29-year-old Giovanna Lazzari, who died in a Brescia clinic on New Year's Eve, a day after arriving in its emergency unit eight months pregnant and showing symptoms of gastroenteritis.

In the case of Marta Lazzarin, who died in Bassano del Grappa in northeastern Italy on December 29th, the report said the hospital had not communicated clearly with her family about the level of risk she faced as a result of a bacterial infection.

It also allegedly failed to manage the patient's pain adequately.

But the report said antibiotics had been administered appropriately as soon as the possibility of a dangerous infection had been identified.

The report said the case of Anna Massignan, a 34-year-old doctor who died in a Verona hospital after an emergency caeseran on Christmas Day, raised several questions of an organizational and clinical nature.

The report suggests these may have impacted the speed with which a decision to order the surgery was made, but emphasised there was no preliminary indication a different outcome could have been achieved.

Doctors delivered Massignan's son alive but he died several hours later.

According to World Bank figures, Italy has had one of the ten lowest rates of maternal mortality for the last decade.

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Covid-19: Average life expectancy in Italy dropped by 1.2 years in 2020

Coronavirus cut average life expectancy in Italy by 1.2 years in 2020, and by more than four years in parts of the country hit hardest by the pandemic, official statistics showed on Monday.

Covid-19: Average life expectancy in Italy dropped by 1.2 years in 2020
A cemetery in Bergamo, one of the parts of Italy which has suffered the highest death toll during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Life expectancy at birth last year stood at 82 years, compared to 83.2 years in 2019, the Istat national statistics office said in a new release.

“In 2020, the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting sharp increase in mortality abruptly interrupted the growth in life expectancy at birth that had characterised the trend until 2019,” it said in a statement.

For many years Italy has boasted one of the longest life expectancies in Europe. But with the spread of the coronavirus, its ageing population was especially vulnerable to falling sick.

Italy has recorded close to 130,000 deaths from Covid-19 in total, which have mainly been among the elderly.


The drop in life expectancy was even steeper in some regions such as the northern provinces of Bergamo and Cremona, the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020.

Men lost on average 4.3 and 4.5 years while women lost 3.2 years and 2.9 years in these areas.

More than 129,500 people with coronavirus have died in Italy, the majority in the northern regions where 36 percent of the population lives.

According to Istat, the pandemic has wiped out many of the gains made year-on-year since 2010, when Italy’s average life expectancy was 81.7.

Italy was the first European country to face a major outbreak of Covid-19 and for a time the region of Lombardy, the nation’s economic heart, became the epicentre of the global pandemic.

Quality of life has also been impacted in Italy, particulary due to the economic repercussions of the crisis.

The government has since rolled out a vaccination programme that, as of Monday evening, had almost 72 percent of the population over 12 fully immunised.

Italy has set a target of vaccinating at least 80 percent of the population by the end of September.