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Public Health Program


Background: It is increasingly recognized that disrespect and abuse of women during labor and delivery is a violation of a woman’s rights and a deterrent to the use of life-saving, facility-based labor and delivery services. In Ethiopia, rates of skilled birth attendance are still only 28% despite a recent dramatic national scale up in the numbers of trained providers and facilities. Concerns have been raised that women's perceptions of poor quality of care and fear of mistreatment might contribute to this low utilization. This study examines the experiences of disrespect and abuse in maternal care from the perspectives of both providers and patients. Methods: We conducted 45 in-depth interviews at four health facilities in Debre Markos, Ethiopia with midwives, midwifery students, and women who had given birth within the past year. Students and providers also took a brief quantitative survey on patients’ rights during labor and delivery and responded to clinical scenarios regarding the provision of stigmatized reproductive health services. Results: We find that both health care providers and patients report frequent physical and verbal abuse as well as non-consented care during labor and delivery. Providers report that most abuse is unintended and results from weaknesses in the health system or from medical necessity. We uncovered no evidence of more systematic types of abuse involving detention of patients, bribery, abandonment or ongoing discrimination against particular ethnic groups. Although health care providers showed good basic knowledge of confidentiality, privacy, and consent, training on the principles of responsive and respectful care, and on counseling, is largely absent. Providers indicated that they would welcome related practical instruction. Patient responses suggest that women are aware that their rights are being violated and avoid facilities with reputations for poor care. Conclusions: Our results suggest that training on respectful care, offered in the professional ethics modules of the national midwifery curriculum, should be strengthened to include greater focus on counseling skills and rapport building. Our findings also indicate that addressing structural issues around provider workload should complement all interventions to improve midwives’ interpersonal interactions with women if Ethiopia is to increase provision of respectful, patient-centered maternity care.

Publisher's Statement

Originally published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 17 [Article 263]. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.


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