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1.  Why Do Women Not Use Antenatal Services in Low- and Middle-Income Countries? A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(1):e1001373.
In a synthesis of 21 qualitative studies representing the views of more than 1,230 women from 15 countries, Kenneth Finlayson and Soo Downe examine the reasons why many women in low- and middle-income countries do not receive adequate antenatal care.
Background
Almost 50% of women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) don't receive adequate antenatal care. Women's views can offer important insights into this problem. Qualitative studies exploring inadequate use of antenatal services have been undertaken in a range of countries, but the findings are not easily transferable. We aimed to inform the development of future antenatal care programmes through a synthesis of findings in all relevant qualitative studies.
Methods and Findings
Using a predetermined search strategy, we identified robust qualitative studies reporting on the views and experiences of women in LMICs who received inadequate antenatal care. We used meta-ethnographic techniques to generate themes and a line-of-argument synthesis. We derived policy-relevant hypotheses from the findings. We included 21 papers representing the views of more than 1,230 women from 15 countries. Three key themes were identified: “pregnancy as socially risky and physiologically healthy”, “resource use and survival in conditions of extreme poverty”, and “not getting it right the first time”. The line-of-argument synthesis describes a dissonance between programme design and cultural contexts that may restrict access and discourage return visits. We hypothesize that centralised, risk-focused antenatal care programmes may be at odds with the resources, beliefs, and experiences of pregnant women who underuse antenatal services.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that there may be a misalignment between current antenatal care provision and the social and cultural context of some women in LMICs. Antenatal care provision that is theoretically and contextually at odds with local contextual beliefs and experiences is likely to be underused, especially when attendance generates increased personal risks of lost family resources or physical danger during travel, when the promised care is not delivered because of resource constraints, and when women experience covert or overt abuse in care settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Although maternal deaths worldwide have almost halved since 1990, according to the latest figures, every day roughly 800 women and adolescent girls still die from the complications of pregnancy or childbirth: in 2010, 287,000 women died during or following pregnancy and childbirth, with almost all of these deaths (99%) occurring in low-resource settings. Most maternal deaths are avoidable, as the interventions to prevent or manage the most common complications (severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion) are well known. Furthermore, many of these complications can be prevented, detected, or treated during antenatal care visits with trained health workers.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of four antenatal visits per pregnancy, but according to WHO figures, between 2005 and 2010 only 53% of pregnant women worldwide attended the recommended four antenatal visits; in low-income countries, this figure was a disappointing 36%. Unfortunately, despite huge international efforts to promote and provide antenatal care, there has been little improvement in these statistics over the past decade. It is therefore important to investigate the reasons for poor antenatal attendance and to seek the views of users of antenatal care. In this study, the researchers combined studies from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that included women's views on antenatal care in a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies (qualitative research uses techniques, such as structured interviews, to gather an in-depth understanding of human behaviour, and a meta-synthesis combines and interprets information across studies, contexts, and populations).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched several medical, sociological, and psychological databases to find appropriate qualitative studies published between January 1980 and February 2012 that explored the antenatal care experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of women from LMICs who had chosen to access antenatal care late (after 12 weeks' gestation), infrequently (less than four times), or not at all. The researchers included 21 studies (out of the 2,997 initially identified) in their synthesis, representing the views of 1,239 women from 15 countries (Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda) who were either interviewed directly or gave their opinion as part of a focus group.
The researchers identified three main themes. The first theme reflects women's views that pregnancy is a healthy state and so saw little reason to visit health professionals when they perceived no risk to their well-being—the researchers called this theme, “pregnancy as socially contingent and physiologically healthy.” The second theme relates to women's limited financial resources, so that even when antenatal care was offered free of charge, the cost of transport to get there, the loss of earnings associated with the visit, and the possibility of having to pay for medicines meant that women were unable to attend—the researchers called this theme “resource use and survival in conditions of extreme poverty.” The third theme the researchers identified related to women's views that the antenatal services were inadequate and that the benefits of attending did not outweigh any potential harms. For example, pregnant women who initially recognized the benefits of antenatal care were often disappointed by the lack of resources they found when they got there and, consequently, decided not to return. The researchers called this theme “not getting it right the first time.”
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there may be a misalignment between the principles that underpin the provision of antenatal care and the beliefs and socio-economic contexts of pregnant women in LMICs, meaning that even high-quality antenatal care may not be used by some pregnant women unless their views and concerns are addressed. The themes identified in this meta-synthesis could provide the basis for a new approach to the design and delivery of antenatal care that takes local beliefs and values and resource availability into account. Such programs might help ensure that antenatal care meets pregnant women's expectations and treats them appropriately so that they want to regularly attend antenatal care.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001373.
Wikipedia describes antenatal care (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The World Health Organization has a wealth of information relating to pregnancy, including antenatal care
The UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has evidence-based guidelines on antenatal care
The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood has a series of web pages and links relating to respectful maternity care in LMICs
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics is an international organization with connections to various maternity initiatives in LMICs
International Confederation of Midwives has details of the Millennium Development Goals relating to maternity care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001373
PMCID: PMC3551970  PMID: 23349622
2.  Why don't some women attend antenatal and postnatal care services?: a qualitative study of community members' perspectives in Garut, Sukabumi and Ciamis districts of West Java Province, Indonesia 
Background
Antenatal, delivery and postnatal care services are amongst the recommended interventions aimed at preventing maternal and newborn deaths worldwide. West Java is one of the provinces of Java Island in Indonesia with a high proportion of home deliveries, a low attendance of four antenatal services and a low postnatal care uptake. This paper aims to explore community members' perspectives on antenatal and postnatal care services, including reasons for using or not using these services, the services received during antenatal and postnatal care, and cultural practices during antenatal and postnatal periods in Garut, Sukabumi and Ciamis districts of West Java province.
Methods
A qualitative study was conducted from March to July 2009 in six villages in three districts of West Java province. Twenty focus group discussions (FGDs) and 165 in-depth interviews were carried out involving a total of 295 respondents. The guidelines for FGDs and in-depth interviews included the topics of community experiences with antenatal and postnatal care services, reasons for not attending the services, and cultural practices during antenatal and postnatal periods.
Results
Our study found that the main reason women attended antenatal and postnatal care services was to ensure the safe health of both mother and infant. Financial difficulty emerged as the major issue among women who did not fulfil the minimum requirements of four antenatal care services or two postnatal care services within the first month after delivery. This was related to the cost of health services, transportation costs, or both. In remote areas, the limited availability of health services was also a problem, especially if the village midwife frequently travelled out of the village. The distances from health facilities, in addition to poor road conditions were major concerns, particularly for those living in remote areas. Lack of community awareness about the importance of these services was also found, as some community members perceived health services to be necessary only if obstetric complications occurred. The services of traditional birth attendants for antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care were widely used, and their roles in maternal and child care were considered vital by some community members.
Conclusions
It is important that public health strategies take into account the availability, affordability and accessibility of health services. Poverty alleviation strategies will help financially deprived communities to use antenatal and postnatal health services. This study also demonstrated the importance of health promotion programs for increasing community awareness about the necessity of antenatal and postnatal services.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-61
PMCID: PMC2964562  PMID: 20937146
3.  The Influence of Distance and Level of Care on Delivery Place in Rural Zambia: A Study of Linked National Data in a Geographic Information System 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000394.
Using linked national data in a geographic information system system, Sabine Gabrysch and colleagues investigate the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia.
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality could be reduced if all women delivered in settings where skilled attendants could provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC) if complications arise. Research on determinants of skilled attendance at delivery has focussed on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment, in part due to a lack of suitable data. The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia, and to compare their population impact to that of other important determinants.
Methods and Findings
Using a geographic information system (GIS), we linked national household data from the Zambian Demographic and Health Survey 2007 with national facility data from the Zambian Health Facility Census 2005 and calculated straight-line distances. Health facilities were classified by whether they provided comprehensive EmOC (CEmOC), basic EmOC (BEmOC), or limited or substandard services. Multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the influence of distance to care and level of care on place of delivery (facility or home) for 3,682 rural births, controlling for a wide range of confounders. Only a third of rural Zambian births occurred at a health facility, and half of all births were to mothers living more than 25 km from a facility of BEmOC standard or better. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of facility delivery decreased by 29% (95% CI, 14%–40%). Independently, each step increase in level of care led to 26% higher odds of facility delivery (95% CI, 7%–48%). The population impact of poor geographic access to EmOC was at least of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
Conclusions
Lack of geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor explaining why most rural deliveries in Zambia still occur at home without skilled care. Addressing geographic and quality barriers is crucial to increase service use and to lower maternal and perinatal mortality. Linking datasets using GIS has great potential for future research and can help overcome the neglect of health system factors in research and policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Approximately 360,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, of which more than 200,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman's lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy remains as high as 1 in 31 (compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world). The target of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. Most maternal and neonatal deaths in low-income countries could be prevented if all women delivered their babies in settings where skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) were available and could provide emergency obstetric care to both mothers and babies in case of complications. Yet every year roughly 50 million women give birth at home without skilled care.
Why was this study done?
The likelihood of a woman giving birth in a health facility under the care of a skilled birth attendant depends on many factors. These include characteristics of the mother and her family, such as education level and household wealth, and aspects of the health service environment—distance to the nearest health facility and the quality of care provided at that facility, for example. However, research to date has typically focused on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment on choice of delivery place, largely because suitable data was not available. In this study in rural Zambia, the researchers aimed to quantify the effects of the health service environment, namely distance to health care and the level of care provided, on pregnant women's use of health facilities for giving birth. To put these factors in context, the researchers compared the impact of distance to quality care on place of delivery to that of other important factors, such as poverty and education.
What did the researchers do and find?
Using a geographic information system (GIS), the researchers linked national household data (from the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey) with national facility data (from the 2005 Zambian Health Facility Census) and calculated straight-line distances between women's villages and health facilities. Health facilities were classified as providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care, basic emergency obstetric care, or limited or substandard services by using reported capability to perform a certain number of the eight emergency obstetric care signal functions: injectable antibiotics, injectable oxytocics, injectable anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, manual removal of retained products, assisted vaginal delivery, cesarean section, and blood transfusion, as well as criteria on staffing, opening hours and referral capacity. The researchers used data from 3,682 rural births and multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses to investigate whether distance to, and level of care at the closest delivery facility influence place of delivery (health facility or home), keeping other influential factors constant.
The researchers found that only a third of births in rural Zambia occurred at a health facility, and half of all mothers who gave birth lived more than 25 km from a health facility that provided basic emergency obstetric services. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of a women giving birth in a health facility decreased by 29%. Independently, each step increase in the level of emergency obstetric care provided at the closest delivery facility led to an increased likelihood (26% higher odds) of a woman delivering her baby at a facility. The researchers estimated that the impact of poor geographic access to emergency obstetric services was of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study suggest that poor geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor in explaining why most women in rural Zambia still deliver their babies at home without skilled care. Therefore, in order to increase the number of women delivering in health facilities and thus reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, it is crucial to address the geographic and quality barriers to delivery service use. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study—linking datasets using GIS— has great potential for future research as it can help explore the influence of health system factors also for other health problems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394.
Information about emergency obstetric care is provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Various topics on maternal health are presented by WHO, WHO Regional Office Africa, by UNPFA, and UNICEF
WHO offers detailed information about MDG5
Family Care International offers more information about maternal and neonatal health
The Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) provides information on needs assessments of emergency obstetric and newborn care
Countdown to 2015 tracks progress in maternal, newborn, and child survival
WHO provides free online viewing of BBC Fight for Life videos describing delivery experiences in different countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394
PMCID: PMC3026699  PMID: 21283606
4.  The Role of HIV-Related Stigma in Utilization of Skilled Childbirth Services in Rural Kenya: A Prospective Mixed-Methods Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001295.
Janet Turan and colleagues examined the role of the perception of women in rural Kenya of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy on their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Background
Childbirth with a skilled attendant is crucial for preventing maternal mortality and is an important opportunity for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma Study (MAMAS Study) is a prospective mixed-methods investigation conducted in a high HIV prevalence area in rural Kenya, in which we examined the role of women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma during pregnancy in their subsequent utilization of maternity services.
Methods and Findings
From 2007–2009, 1,777 pregnant women with unknown HIV status completed an interviewer-administered questionnaire assessing their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal care visit. After the visit, a sub-sample of women was selected for follow-up (all women who tested HIV-positive or were not tested for HIV, and a random sample of HIV-negative women, n = 598); 411 (69%) were located and completed another questionnaire postpartum. Additional qualitative in-depth interviews with community health workers, childbearing women, and family members (n = 48) aided our interpretation of the quantitative findings and highlighted ways in which HIV-related stigma may influence birth decisions. Qualitative data revealed that health facility birth is commonly viewed as most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications, such as HIV. Thus, women delivering at health facilities face the risk of being labeled as HIV-positive in the community. Our quantitative data revealed that women with higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma (specifically those who held negative attitudes about persons living with HIV) at baseline were subsequently less likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant, even after adjusting for other known predictors of health facility delivery (adjusted odds ratio = 0.44, 95% CI 0.22–0.88).
Conclusions
Our findings point to the urgent need for interventions to reduce HIV-related stigma, not only for improving quality of life among persons living with HIV, but also for better health outcomes among all childbearing women and their families.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, nearly 350,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications. Almost all these “maternal” deaths occur in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the maternal mortality ratio (the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) is 500 whereas in industrialized countries it is only 12. Most maternal deaths are caused by hemorrhage (severe bleeding after childbirth), post-delivery infections, obstructed (difficult) labor, and blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. All these conditions can be prevented if women have access to adequate reproductive health services and if trained health care workers are present during delivery. Notably, in sub-Saharan Africa, infection with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is an increasingly important contributor to maternal mortality. HIV infection causes maternal mortality directly by increasing the occurrence of pregnancy complications and indirectly by increasing the susceptibility of pregnant women to malaria, tuberculosis, and other “opportunistic” infections—HIV-positive individuals are highly susceptible to other infections because HIV destroys the immune system.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although skilled delivery attendants reduce maternal mortality, there are many barriers to their use in developing countries including cost and the need to travel long distances to health facilities. Fears and experiences of HIV-related stigma and discrimination (prejudice, negative attitudes, abuse, and maltreatment directed at people living with HIV) may also be a barrier to the use of skilled childbirth service. Maternity services are prime locations for HIV testing and for the provision of interventions for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, so pregnant women know that they will have to “deal with” the issue of HIV when visiting these services. In this prospective mixed-methods study, the researchers examine the role of pregnant women's perceptions of HIV-related stigma in their subsequent use of maternity services in Nyanza Province, Kenya, a region where 16% women aged 15–49 are HIV-positive and where only 44.2% of mothers give birth in a health facility. A mixed-methods study combines qualitative data—how people feel about an issue—with quantitative data—numerical data about outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the Maternity in Migori and AIDS Stigma (MAMAS) study, pregnant women with unknown HIV status living in rural regions of Nyanza Province answered questions about their perceptions of HIV-related stigma before being offered HIV testing during their first antenatal clinic visit. After delivery, the researchers asked the women who tested HIV positive or were not tested for HIV and a sample of HIV-negative women where they had delivered their baby. They also gathered qualitative information about barriers to maternity and HIV service use by interviewing childbearing women, family members, and community health workers. The qualitative data indicate that labor in a health facility is commonly viewed as being most appropriate for women with pregnancy complications such as HIV infection. Thus, women delivering at health facilities risk being labeled as HIV positive, a label that the community associates with promiscuity. The quantitative data indicate that women with more negative attitudes about HIV-positive people (higher perceptions of HIV-related stigma) at baseline were about half as likely to deliver in a health facility with a skilled attendant as women with more positive attitudes about people living with HIV.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that HIV-related stigma is associated with the low rate of delivery by skilled attendants in rural areas of Nyanza Province and possibly in other rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Community mobilization efforts aimed at increasing the use of PMTCT services may be partly responsible for the strong perception that delivery in a health facility is most appropriate for women with HIV and other pregnancy complications and may have inadvertently strengthened the perception that women who give birth in such facilities are likely to be HIV positive. The researchers suggest, therefore, that health messages should stress that delivery in a health facility is recommended for all women, not just HIV-positive women or those with pregnancy complications, and that interventions should be introduced to reduce HIV-related stigma. This combined strategy has the potential to increase the use of maternity services by all women and the use of HIV and PMTCT services, thereby reducing some of the most pressing health problems facing women and their children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001295.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) provides information on maternal mortality, including the WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA/World Bank 2008 country estimates of maternal mortality; a UNICEF special report tells the stories of seven mothers living with HIV in Lesotho
The World Health Organization provides information on maternal health, including information about Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality (in several languages); the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed by world leaders in 2000, are designed to eradicate extreme poverty worldwide by 2015
Immpact is a global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies
Maternal Death: The Avoidable Crisis is a briefing paper published by the independent humanitarian medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in March 2012
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on women, HIV and AIDS, on HIV and pregnancy, on HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination, and on HIV in Kenya (in English and Spanish); Avert also has personal stories from women living with HIV
The Stigma Action Network (SAN) is a collaborative endeavor that aims to comprehensively coordinate efforts to develop and expand program, research, and advocacy strategies for reducing HIV stigma worldwide, including mobilizing stakeholders, delivering program and policy solutions, and maximizing investments in HIV programs and services globally
The People Living with Stigma Index aims to address stigma relating to HIV and advocate on key barriers and issues perpetuating stigma; it has recently published Piecing it together for women and girls, the gender dimensions of HIV-related stigma
The Health Policy Project http://www.healthpolicyproject.com has prepared a review of the academic and programmatic literature on stigma and discrimination as barriers to achievement of global goals for maternal health and the elimination of new child HIV infections (see under Resources)
More information on the MAMAS study is available from the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001295
PMCID: PMC3424253  PMID: 22927800
5.  Access To Essential Maternal Health Interventions and Human Rights Violations among Vulnerable Communities in Eastern Burma 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e242.
Background
Health indicators are poor and human rights violations are widespread in eastern Burma. Reproductive and maternal health indicators have not been measured in this setting but are necessary as part of an evaluation of a multi-ethnic pilot project exploring strategies to increase access to essential maternal health interventions. The goal of this study is to estimate coverage of maternal health services prior to this project and associations between exposure to human rights violations and access to such services.
Methods and Findings
Selected communities in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma that were accessible to community-based organizations operating from Thailand were surveyed to estimate coverage of reproductive, maternal, and family planning services, and to assess exposure to household-level human rights violations within the pilot-project target population. Two-stage cluster sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) documented access to essential antenatal care interventions, skilled attendance at birth, postnatal care, and family planning services. Mid-upper arm circumference, hemoglobin by color scale, and Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia by rapid diagnostic dipstick were measured. Exposure to human rights violations in the prior 12 mo was recorded. Between September 2006 and January 2007, 2,914 surveys were conducted. Eighty-eight percent of women reported a home delivery for their last pregnancy (within previous 5 y). Skilled attendance at birth (5.1%), any (39.3%) or ≥ 4 (16.7%) antenatal visits, use of an insecticide-treated bed net (21.6%), and receipt of iron supplements (11.8%) were low. At the time of the survey, more than 60% of women had hemoglobin level estimates ≤ 11.0 g/dl and 7.2% were Pf positive. Unmet need for contraceptives exceeded 60%. Violations of rights were widely reported: 32.1% of Karenni households reported forced labor and 10% of Karen households had been forced to move. Among Karen households, odds of anemia were 1.51 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.95–2.40) times higher among women reporting forced displacement, and 7.47 (95% CI 2.21–25.3) higher among those exposed to food security violations. The odds of receiving no antenatal care services were 5.94 (95% CI 2.23–15.8) times higher among those forcibly displaced.
Conclusions
Coverage of basic maternal health interventions is woefully inadequate in these selected populations and substantially lower than even the national estimates for Burma, among the lowest in the region. Considerable political, financial, and human resources are necessary to improve access to maternal health care in these communities.
Luke Mullany and colleagues examine access to essential maternal health interventions and human rights violations within vulnerable communities in eastern Burma.
Editors' Summary
Background.
After decades of military rule, Burma has one of the world's worst health-care systems and high levels of ill health. For example, maternal mortality (deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes) is around 360 per 100,000 live births in Burma, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44 per 100,000 live births. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon states in eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, maternal mortality is thought to be about 1000 per 100, 000 live births. In an effort to improve access to life-saving maternal health interventions in these states, Burmese community-based health organizations, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the Global Health Access Program in the USA, and the Mae Tao Clinic (a health-worker training center in Thailand) recently set up the Mobile Obstetric Maternal Health Workers (MOM) Project. In this pilot project, local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, emergency obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), blood transfusion, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic. Back in Burma, these maternal health workers trained additional local health workers and traditional birth attendants. All these individuals now provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
The effectiveness of the MOM project can only be evaluated if accurate baseline information on women's access to maternal health-care services is available. This information is also needed to ensure the wise use of scarce health-care resources. However, very little is known about reproductive and maternal health in eastern Burma. In this study, the researchers analyze the information on women's access to reproductive and maternal health-care services that was collected during the initial field implementation stage of the MOM project. In addition, they analyze whether exposure to enforced village relocations and other human rights violations affect access to maternal health-care services.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Trained survey workers asked nearly 3000 ever-married women of reproductive age in the selected communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. They measured each woman's mid-upper arm circumference (an indicator of nutritional status) and tested them for anemia (iron deficiency) and infection with malaria parasites (a common cause of anemia in tropical countries). Finally, they asked the women about any recent violations of their human rights such as forced labour or relocation. Nearly 90% of the women reported a home delivery for their last baby. A skilled attendant was present at only one in 20 births and only one in three women had any antenatal care. One third of the women received postnatal care and only a third said they had access to effective contraceptives. Few women had received iron supplements or had used insecticide-treated bednets to avoid malaria-carrying mosquitos. Consequently, more than half the women were anemic and 7.2% were infected with malaria parasites. Many women also showed signs of poor nutrition. Finally, human rights violations were widely reported by the women. In Karen, the region containing most of the study communities, forced relocation tripled the risk of women developing anemia and greatly decreased their chances of receiving any antenatal care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that access to maternal health-care interventions is extremely limited and that poor nutrition, anemia, and malaria, all of which increase the risk of pregnancy complications, are widespread in the communities in the MOM project. Because these communities had some basic health services and access to training in Thailand before the project started, these results probably underestimate the lack of access to maternal health-care services in eastern Burma. Nevertheless, it is clear that considerable political, financial, and human resources will be needed to improve maternal health in this region. Finally, the findings also reveal a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. Thus, the scale of human rights violations will need to be considered when evaluating programs designed to improve maternal health in Burma and in other places where there is ongoing conflict.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Macaya Douoguih
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao Clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
More information about the MOM project is available in a previous publication by the researchers
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and ongoing efforts to save mothers' lives around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242
PMCID: PMC2605890  PMID: 19108601
6.  Impact of Community-Based Maternal Health Workers on Coverage of Essential Maternal Health Interventions among Internally Displaced Communities in Eastern Burma: The MOM Project 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(8):e1000317.
Mullany and colleagues report outcomes from a project involving delivery of community-based maternal health services in eastern Burma, and report substantial increases in coverage of care.
Background
Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care is poor throughout Burma, but is particularly lacking among internally displaced communities in the eastern border regions. In such settings, innovative strategies for accessing vulnerable populations and delivering basic public health interventions are urgently needed.
Methods
Four ethnic health organizations from the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions collaborated on a pilot project between 2005 and 2008 to examine the feasibility of an innovative three-tiered network of community-based providers for delivery of maternal health interventions in the complex emergency setting of eastern Burma. Two-stage cluster-sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) conducted before and after program implementation enabled evaluation of changes in coverage of essential antenatal care interventions, attendance at birth by those trained to manage complications, postnatal care, and family planning services.
Results
Among 2,889 and 2,442 women of reproductive age in 2006 and 2008, respectively, population characteristics (age, marital status, ethnic distribution, literacy) were similar. Compared to baseline, women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period were substantially more likely to receive antenatal care (71.8% versus 39.3%, prevalence rate ratio [PRR] = 1.83 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.64–2.04]) and specific interventions such as urine testing (42.4% versus 15.7%, PRR = 2.69 [95% CI 2.69–3.54]), malaria screening (55.9% versus 21.9%, PRR = 2.88 [95% CI 2.15–3.85]), and deworming (58.2% versus 4.1%, PRR = 14.18 [95% CI 10.76–18.71]. Postnatal care visits within 7 d doubled. Use of modern methods to avoid pregnancy increased from 23.9% to 45.0% (PRR = 1.88 [95% CI 1.63–2.17]), and unmet need for contraception was reduced from 61.7% to 40.5%, a relative reduction of 35% (95% CI 28%–40%). Attendance at birth by those trained to deliver elements of emergency obstetric care increased almost 10-fold, from 5.1% to 48.7% (PRR = 9.55 [95% CI 7.21–12.64]).
Conclusions
Coverage of maternal health interventions and higher-level care at birth was substantially higher during the project period. The MOM Project's focus on task-shifting, capacity building, and empowerment at the community level might serve as a model approach for similarly constrained settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Access to essential maternal and reproductive health care (including family planning) is particularly bad in war-torn countries. In Burma, for example, where there have been decades of conflict between the military junta and ethnic minority resistance groups, the maternal mortality rate (the number of deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births) is around 380, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, the maternal mortality rate is around 1,200. In an effort to improve access to maternal health services in these regions, community-based organizations in Burma, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, and the Global Health Access Program undertook an innovative pilot project—the Mobile Obstetric Medics (MOM) project—between 2005 and 2008. Local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), postnatal care, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand. These “maternal health workers” then returned to Burma where they trained local health workers and traditional birth attendants to provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
Before the MOM project started, nearly 3,000 women living in the study communities were surveyed to evaluate the coverage of essential antenatal care interventions such as urine testing for infections during pregnancy, screening for malaria, and deworming; Urinary tract infections, malaria, and hookworm infections all increase the risk of poor maternal and neonatal outcomes. The preproject survey also evaluated how many births were attended by people able to deal with complications, and the provision of postnatal care and family planning services. In this study, the researchers undertake a similar postproject survey to evaluate the impact of MOM on the coverage of essential maternal health interventions among internally displaced communities in eastern Burma.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2008 and December 2008, trained survey workers asked nearly 2,500 ever-married women of reproductive age from the project's study communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. The results of the postproject survey were then compared with those of the “baseline,” preproject survey. The general characteristics (age, marital status, ethnicity, and literacy) of the women included in the two surveys were very similar. However, 71.8% of the women whose most recent pregnancy occurred during the implementation period of the MOM project had received antenatal care compared to only 39.3% of women surveyed at baseline. Similarly, among the women questioned during the postproject survey, 42.4% had had their urine tested and 55.9% had been screened for malaria during pregnancy compared to only 15.7% and 21.9%, respectively, of the women questioned in the preproject survey. Deworming had increased from 4.1% to 58.2% during the project, postnatal care visits within 7 days had doubled, and attendance at birth by people trained to deal with obstetric emergencies had increased 10-fold from 5.1% to 48.7%. Finally, the use of modern contraception methods (slow-release contraceptives, oral contraceptives, and condoms) had increased from 23.9% to 45.0%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a substantial improvement in access to maternal and reproductive health care in the study communities during the MOM project. However, because the study compared two independent groups of women before and after implementation of the MOM project rather than concurrently comparing groups of women who did and did not receive the services provided by the MOM project, this study does not prove that the MOM approach was the cause of the changes in the coverage of essential maternal health care. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the type of approach used in the MOM project—the expansion of interventions (including components of emergency obstetric care) delivered outside healthcare facilities by community-based providers—might be an effective way to deliver maternal and reproductive health services in other parts of Burma and in other places where there are ongoing conflicts.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317.
More information about the MOM project is available in previous publications by the researchers in PLoS Medicine, in Reproductive Health Matters, and in Social Science and Medicine
Additional resources are also available on the MOM Project
The Reproductive Health Response in Conflict Consortium provides information on how conflicts affect reproductive health
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations, including those that affect maternal health in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and maternal and reproductive health during conflicts and among refugees (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000317
PMCID: PMC2914639  PMID: 20689805
7.  Community Mobilization in Mumbai Slums to Improve Perinatal Care and Outcomes: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001257.
David Osrin and colleagues report findings from a cluster-randomized trial conducted in Mumbai slums; the trial aimed to evaluate whether facilitator-supported women's groups could improve perinatal outcomes.
Introduction
Improving maternal and newborn health in low-income settings requires both health service and community action. Previous community initiatives have been predominantly rural, but India is urbanizing. While working to improve health service quality, we tested an intervention in which urban slum-dweller women's groups worked to improve local perinatal health.
Methods and Findings
A cluster randomized controlled trial in 24 intervention and 24 control settlements covered a population of 283,000. In each intervention cluster, a facilitator supported women's groups through an action learning cycle in which they discussed perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took local action. We monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths, and interviewed mothers at 6 weeks postpartum. The primary outcomes described perinatal care, maternal morbidity, and extended perinatal mortality. The analysis included 18,197 births over 3 years from 2006 to 2009. We found no differences between trial arms in uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in later pregnancy, institutional delivery, early and exclusive breastfeeding, or care-seeking. The stillbirth rate was non-significantly lower in the intervention arm (odds ratio 0.86, 95% CI 0.60–1.22), and the neonatal mortality rate higher (1.48, 1.06–2.08). The extended perinatal mortality rate did not differ between arms (1.19, 0.90–1.57). We have no evidence that these differences could be explained by the intervention.
Conclusions
Facilitating urban community groups was feasible, and there was evidence of behaviour change, but we did not see population-level effects on health care or mortality. In cities with multiple sources of health care, but inequitable access to services, community mobilization should be integrated with attempts to deliver services for the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve quality of care in both public and private sectors.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN96256793
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Substantial progress is being made to reduce global child mortality (deaths of children before the age of 5 years) and maternal mortality (deaths among women because of complications of pregnancy and childbirth)—two of the Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders in 2000 to end extreme poverty. Even so, worldwide, in 2010, 7.6 million children died before their fifth birthday and there were nearly 360,000 maternal deaths. Almost all child and maternal deaths occur in developing countries—a fifth of under-five deaths and more than a quarter of neonatal deaths (deaths during the first month of life, which account for two-fifths of all child deaths) occur in India alone. Moreover, most child and maternal deaths are caused by avoidable conditions. Specifically, the major causes of neonatal death—complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery, and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia)—and of maternal deaths—hemorrhage (abnormal bleeding), sepsis, unsafe abortion, obstructed labor, and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy—could all be largely prevented by improved access to reproductive health services and skilled health care workers.
Why Was This Study Done?
Experts believe that improvements to maternal and newborn health in low-income settings require both health service strengthening and community action. That is, the demand for better services, driven by improved knowledge about maternal and newborn health (perinatal issues), has to be increased in parallel with the supply of those services. To date, community mobilization around perinatal issues has largely been undertaken in rural settings but populations in developing countries are becoming increasingly urban. In India, for example, 30% of the population now lives in cities. In this cluster randomized controlled trial (a study in which groups of people are randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions and the outcomes in the differently treated “clusters” are compared), City Initiative for Newborn Health (CINH) researchers investigate the effect of an intervention designed to help women's groups in the slums of Mumbai work towards improving local perinatal health. The CINH aims to improve maternal and newborn health in slum communities by improving public health care provision and by working with community members to improve maternal and newborn care practices and care-seeking behaviors.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 48 Mumbai slum communities of at least 1,000 households into their trial. In each of the 24 intervention clusters, a facilitator supported local women's groups through a 36-meeting learning cycle during which group members discussed their perinatal experiences, improved their knowledge, and took action. To measure the effect of the intervention, the researchers monitored births, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths in all the clusters and interviewed mothers 6 weeks after delivery. During the 3-year trial, there were 18,197 births in the participating settlements. The women in the intervention clusters were enthusiastic about acquiring new knowledge and made substantial efforts to reach out to other women but were less successful in undertaking collective action such as negotiations with civic authorities for more amenities. There were no differences between the intervention and control communities in the uptake of antenatal care, reported work, rest, and diet in late pregnancy, institutional delivery, or in breast feeding and care-seeking behavior. Finally, the combined rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths (the extended perinatal mortality rate) was the same in both arms of the trial, as was maternal mortality.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that it is possible to facilitate the discussion of perinatal health care by urban women's groups in the challenging conditions that exist in the slums of Mumbai. However, they fail to show any measureable effect of community mobilization through the facilitation of women's groups on perinatal health at the population level. The researchers acknowledge that more intensive community activities that target the poorest, most vulnerable slum dwellers might produce measurable effects on perinatal mortality, and they conclude that, in cities with multiple sources of health care and inequitable access to services, it remains important to integrate community mobilization with attempts to deliver services to the poorest and most vulnerable, and with initiatives to improve the quality of health care in both the public and private sector.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257.
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on the reduction of child mortality (Millennium Development Goal 4); its Childinfo website provides information about all the Millennium Development Goals and detailed statistics about on child survival and health, newborn care, and maternal health (some information in several languages)
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and Millennium Development Goal 5, the reduction of maternal mortality, provides information on newborn infants, and provides estimates of child mortality rates (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information on the City Initiative for Newborn Health and its partners and a detailed description of its trial of community mobilization in Mumbai slums to improve care during pregnancy, delivery, postnatally and for the newborn are available
Further information about the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action (SNEHA) is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001257
PMCID: PMC3389036  PMID: 22802737
8.  The use of antenatal and postnatal care: perspectives and experiences of women and health care providers in rural southern Tanzania 
Background
Although antenatal care coverage in Tanzania is high, worrying gaps exist in terms of its quality and ability to prevent, diagnose or treat complications. Moreover, much less is known about the utilisation of postnatal care, by which we mean the care of mother and baby that begins one hour after the delivery until six weeks after childbirth. We describe the perspectives and experiences of women and health care providers on the use of antenatal and postnatal services.
Methods
From March 2007 to January 2008, we conducted in-depth interviews with health care providers and village based informants in 8 villages of Lindi Rural and Tandahimba districts in southern Tanzania. Eight focus group discussions were also conducted with women who had babies younger than one year and pregnant women. The discussion guide included information about timing of antenatal and postnatal services, perceptions of the rationale and importance of antenatal and postnatal care, barriers to utilisation and suggestions for improvement.
Results
Women were generally positive about both antenatal and postnatal care. Among common reasons mentioned for late initiation of antenatal care was to avoid having to make several visits to the clinic. Other concerns included fear of encountering wild animals on the way to the clinic as well as lack of money. Fear of caesarean section was reported as a factor hindering intrapartum care-seeking from hospitals. Despite the perceived benefits of postnatal care for children, there was a total lack of postnatal care for the mothers. Shortages of staff, equipment and supplies were common complaints in the community.
Conclusion
Efforts to improve antenatal and postnatal care should focus on addressing geographical and economic access while striving to make services more culturally sensitive. Antenatal and postnatal care can offer important opportunities for linking the health system and the community by encouraging women to deliver with a skilled attendant. Addressing staff shortages through expanding training opportunities and incentives to health care providers and developing postnatal care guidelines are key steps to improve maternal and newborn health.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-10
PMCID: PMC2664785  PMID: 19261181
9.  Delivering interventions to reduce the global burden of stillbirths: improving service supply and community demand 
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  2009;9(Suppl 1):S7.
Background
Although a number of antenatal and intrapartum interventions have shown some evidence of impact on stillbirth incidence, much confusion surrounds ideal strategies for delivering these interventions within health systems, particularly in low-/middle-income countries where 98% of the world's stillbirths occur. Improving the uptake of quality antenatal and intrapartum care is critical for evidence-based interventions to generate an impact at the population level. This concluding paper of a series of papers reviewing the evidence for stillbirth interventions examines the evidence for community and health systems approaches to improve uptake and quality of antenatal and intrapartum care, and synthesises programme and policy recommendations for how best to deliver evidence-based interventions at community and facility levels, across the continuum of care, to reduce stillbirths.
Methods
We systematically searched PubMed and the Cochrane Library for abstracts pertaining to community-based and health-systems strategies to increase uptake and quality of antenatal and intrapartum care services. We also sought abstracts which reported impact on stillbirths or perinatal mortality. Searches used multiple combinations of broad and specific search terms and prioritised rigorous randomised controlled trials and meta-analyses where available. Wherever eligible randomised controlled trials were identified after a Cochrane review had been published, we conducted new meta-analyses based on the original Cochrane criteria.
Results
In low-resource settings, cost, distance and the time needed to access care are major barriers for effective uptake of antenatal and particularly intrapartum services. A number of innovative strategies to surmount cost, distance, and time barriers to accessing care were identified and evaluated; of these, community financial incentives, loan/insurance schemes, and maternity waiting homes seem promising, but few studies have reported or evaluated the impact of the wide-scale implementation of these strategies on stillbirth rates. Strategies to improve quality of care by upgrading the skills of community cadres have shown demonstrable impact on perinatal mortality, particularly in conjunction with health systems strengthening and facilitation of referrals. Neonatal resuscitation training for physicians and other health workers shows potential to prevent many neonatal deaths currently misclassified as stillbirths. Perinatal audit systems, which aim to improve quality of care by identifying deficiencies in care, are a quality improvement measure that shows some evidence of benefit for changes in clinical practice that prevent stillbirths, and are strongly recommended wherever practical, whether as hospital case review or as confidential enquiry at district or national level.
Conclusion
Delivering interventions to reduce the global burden of stillbirths requires action at all levels of the health system. Packages of interventions should be tailored to local conditions, including local levels and causes of stillbirth, accessibility of care and health system resources and provider skill. Antenatal care can potentially serve as a platform to deliver interventions to improve maternal nutrition, promote behaviour change to reduce harmful exposures and risk of infections, screen for and treat risk factors, and encourage skilled attendance at birth. Following the example of high-income countries, improving intrapartum monitoring for fetal distress and access to Caesarean section in low-/middle-income countries appears to be key to reducing intrapartum stillbirth. In remote or low-resource settings, families and communities can be galvanised to demand and seek quality care through financial incentives and health promotion efforts of local cadres of health workers, though these interventions often require simultaneous health systems strengthening. Perinatal audit can aid in the development of better standards of care, improving quality in health systems. Effective strategies to prevent stillbirth are known; gaps remain in the data, the evidence and perhaps most significantly, the political will to implement these strategies at scale.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-S1-S7
PMCID: PMC2679413  PMID: 19426470
10.  Global Estimates of Syphilis in Pregnancy and Associated Adverse Outcomes: Analysis of Multinational Antenatal Surveillance Data 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(2):e1001396.
Using multinational surveillance data, Lori Newman and colleagues estimate global rates of active syphilis in pregnant women, adverse effects, and antenatal coverage and treatment needed to meet WHO goals.
Background
The World Health Organization initiative to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of syphilis aims for ≥90% of pregnant women to be tested for syphilis and ≥90% to receive treatment by 2015. We calculated global and regional estimates of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008, as well as antenatal care (ANC) coverage for women with syphilis.
Methods and Findings
Estimates were based upon a health service delivery model. National syphilis seropositivity data from 97 of 193 countries and ANC coverage from 147 countries were obtained from World Health Organization databases. Proportions of adverse outcomes and effectiveness of screening and treatment were from published literature. Regional estimates of ANC syphilis testing and treatment were examined through sensitivity analysis. In 2008, approximately 1.36 million (range: 1.16 to 1.56 million) pregnant women globally were estimated to have probable active syphilis; of these, 80% had attended ANC. Globally, 520,905 (best case: 425,847; worst case: 615,963) adverse outcomes were estimated to be caused by maternal syphilis, including approximately 212,327 (174,938; 249,716) stillbirths (>28 wk) or early fetal deaths (22 to 28 wk), 91,764 (76,141; 107,397) neonatal deaths, 65,267 (56,929; 73,605) preterm or low birth weight infants, and 151,547 (117,848; 185,245) infected newborns. Approximately 66% of adverse outcomes occurred in ANC attendees who were not tested or were not treated for syphilis. In 2008, based on the middle case scenario, clinical services likely averted 26% of all adverse outcomes. Limitations include missing syphilis seropositivity data for many countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, and North America, and use of estimates for the proportion of syphilis that was “probable active,” and for testing and treatment coverage.
Conclusions
Syphilis continues to affect large numbers of pregnant women, causing substantial perinatal morbidity and mortality that could be prevented by early testing and treatment. In this analysis, most adverse outcomes occurred among women who attended ANC but were not tested or treated for syphilis, highlighting the need to improve the quality of ANC as well as ANC coverage. In addition, improved ANC data on syphilis testing coverage, positivity, and treatment are needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Syphilis—a sexually transmitted bacterial infection caused by Treponema pallidum—can pass from a mother who is infected to her unborn child. Screening pregnant women for syphilis during routine antenatal care by looking for a reaction to T. pallidum in the blood (seropositivity) and then treating any detected infections with penicillin injections has been feasible for many years, even in low-resource settings. However, because coverage of testing and treatment of syphilis remains low in many countries, mother-to-child transmission of syphilis—“congenital syphilis”—is still a global public health problem. In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were 2 million syphilis infections among pregnant women annually, 65% of which resulted in adverse pregnancy outcomes: the baby's death during early or late pregnancy (fetal death and stillbirth, respectively) or soon after birth (neonatal death), or the birth of an infected baby. Babies born with syphilis often have a low birth weight and develop problems such as blindness, deafness, and seizures if not treated.
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2007, WHO launched an initiative to eliminate congenital syphilis that set targets of at least 90% of pregnant women being tested for syphilis and at least 90% of seropositive pregnant women receiving adequate treatment by 2015. To assess the initiative's progress and to guide policy and advocacy efforts, accurate global data on the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and on associated adverse outcomes are needed. Unfortunately, even in developed countries with good laboratory facilities, definitive diagnosis of congenital syphilis is difficult. Estimates of the global burden can be obtained, however, using mathematical models. In this study, the researchers generate global and regional estimates of the burden of syphilis in pregnancy and associated adverse outcomes for 2008 using a health services delivery model.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a mathematical model to estimate the number of syphilis-infected pregnant women in each country and in each region, and to estimate the regional and global numbers of adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with syphilis. They used national syphilis seropositivity data and information on antenatal care coverage from WHO and estimates of the effectiveness of screening and treatment from published literature. Using these data and their model, the researchers estimated that, in 2008, 1.4 million pregnant women, 80% of whom had attended antenatal care services, had an active syphilis infection. Assuming a scenario in which the percentage of pregnant women tested for syphilis and adequately treated ranged from 30% for Africa and the Mediterranean region to 70% for Europe (a scenario defined in consultation with WHO advisors), the researchers estimated that maternal syphilis caused 520,000 adverse outcomes in 2008, including 215,000 stillbirths or fetal deaths, 90,000 neonatal deaths, 65,000 preterm or low birth weight infants, and 150,000 infants with congenital disease. About 66% of these adverse effects occurred in women who had attended antenatal care but were either not tested or not treated for syphilis. Finally, the researchers estimated that in 2008, clinical services averted 26% of all adverse outcomes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings, which update and extend previous estimates of the global burden of congenital syphilis, indicate that syphilis continues to affect a large number of pregnant women and their offspring. The current findings, which cannot be directly compared to previous estimates because of the different methodologies used, are likely to be affected by the accuracy of the data fed into the researchers' model. In particular, the data on the percentage of the population infected with syphilis in individual countries used in this study came from the HIV Universal Access reporting system and may not be nationally representative. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that syphilis continues to be an important cause of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, partly because pregnant women often do not receive syphilis screening and prompt treatment during routine antenatal care. The researchers recommend, therefore, that all countries should ensure that all pregnant women receive an essential package of high-quality antenatal care services that includes routine and easy access to syphilis testing and treatment. Congenital syphilis, they conclude, can only be eliminated if decision-makers at all levels prioritize the provision, quality, and monitoring of this basic antenatal care service, which has the potential to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396.
The World Health Organization provides information on sexually transmitted diseases, including details of its strategy for the global elimination of congenital syphilis, the investment case for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of syphilis, and regional updates on progress towards elimination (some information is available in several languages)
The Pan American Health Organization provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Latin America (in English and Spanish), and the Asia-Pacific Prevention of Parent-to-Child Transmission Task Force provides information on efforts to eliminate congenital syphilis in Asia Pacific
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on syphilis (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also has a page on syphilis
MedlinePlus provides information on congenital syphilis and links to additional syphilis resources (in English and Spanish)
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine provides a toolkit for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests
Haiti: Congenital Syphilis on the Way Out is a YouTube video describing the introduction of rapid diagnostic tests for syphilis in remote parts of Haiti
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001396
PMCID: PMC3582608  PMID: 23468598
11.  Mobile phones improve antenatal care attendance in Zanzibar: a cluster randomized controlled trial 
Background
Applying mobile phones in healthcare is increasingly prioritized to strengthen healthcare systems. Antenatal care has the potential to reduce maternal morbidity and improve newborns’ survival but this benefit may not be realized in sub-Saharan Africa where the attendance and quality of care is declining. We evaluated the association between a mobile phone intervention and antenatal care in a resource-limited setting. We aimed to assess antenatal care in a comprehensive way taking into consideration utilisation of antenatal care as well as content and timing of interventions during pregnancy.
Methods
This study was an open label pragmatic cluster-randomised controlled trial with primary healthcare facilities in Zanzibar as the unit of randomisation. 2550 pregnant women (1311 interventions and 1239 controls) who attended antenatal care at selected primary healthcare facilities were included at their first antenatal care visit and followed until 42 days after delivery. 24 primary health care facilities in six districts were randomized to either mobile phone intervention or standard care. The intervention consisted of a mobile phone text-message and voucher component. Primary outcome measure was four or more antenatal care visits during pregnancy. Secondary outcome measures were tetanus vaccination, preventive treatment for malaria, gestational age at last antenatal care visit, and antepartum referral.
Results
The mobile phone intervention was associated with an increase in antenatal care attendance. In the intervention group 44% of the women received four or more antenatal care visits versus 31% in the control group (OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 1.03-5.55). There was a trend towards improved timing and quality of antenatal care services across all secondary outcome measures although not statistically significant.
Conclusions
The wired mothers’ mobile phone intervention significantly increased the proportion of women receiving the recommended four antenatal care visits during pregnancy and there was a trend towards improved quality of care with more women receiving preventive health services, more women attending antenatal care late in pregnancy and more women with antepartum complications identified and referred. Mobile phone applications may contribute towards improved maternal and newborn health and should be considered by policy makers in resource-limited settings.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01821222.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-29
PMCID: PMC3898378  PMID: 24438517
Antenatal care; Maternal health; Neonatal health; Mobile phones; mHealth; Zanzibar
12.  Unintended pregnancies and the use of maternal health services in southwestern Ethiopia 
Background
The benefits of maternal health care to maternal and neonatal health outcomes have been well documented. Antenatal care attendance, institutional delivery and skilled attendance at delivery all help to improve maternal and neonatal health. However, use of maternal health services is still very low in developing countries with high maternal mortality including Ethiopia. This study examines the association of unintended Pregnancy with the use of maternal health services in Southwestern Ethiopia.
Methods
Data for this study come from a survey conducted among 1370 women with a recent birth in a Health and Demographic Surveillance Site (HDSS) in southwestern Ethiopia. An interviewer administered questionnaire was used to gather data on maternal health care, pregnancy intention and other explanatory variables. Data were analyzed using STATA 11, and both bivariate and multivariate analyses were done. Multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the association of pregnancy intention with the use of antenatal and delivery care services. Unadjusted and adjusted odds ratio and their 95% confidence intervals are reported.
Results
More than one third (35%) of women reported that their most recent pregnancy was unintended. With regards to maternal health care, only 42% of women made at least one antenatal care visit during pregnancy, while 17% had four or more visits. Institutional delivery was only 12%. Unintended pregnancy was significantly (OR: 0.75, 95% CI, 0.58-0.97) associated with use of antenatal care services and receiving adequate antenatal care (OR: 0.67, 95% CI, 0.46-0.96), even after adjusting for other socio-demographic factors. However, for delivery care, the association with pregnancy intention was attenuated after adjustment. Other factors associated with antenatal care and delivery care include women’s education, urban residence, wealth and distance from health facility.
Conclusions
Women with unintended pregnancies were less likely to access or receive adequate antenatal care. Interventions are needed to reduce unintended pregnancy such as improving access to family planning information and services. Moreover, improving access to maternal health services and understanding women’s pregnancy intention at the time of first antenatal care visit is important to encourage women with unintended pregnancies to complete antenatal care.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-36
PMCID: PMC3844536  PMID: 24011335
Unintended pregnancy; Antenatal care; Delivery care; Southwestern Ethiopia
13.  Exploring inequities in skilled care at birth among migrant population in a metropolitan city Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; a qualitative study 
Introduction
Ethiopia records high levels of inequity in skilled birth care (SBC), where the gaps are much wider among urban migrant women. An intervention project has been conducted in Addis Ababa, intending to improve quality and to ensure equitable access to maternal and newborn care services. As part of the project, this study explored the inequities in maternal health care among migrant women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Methods
A qualitative community based study was conducted from April to May 2014 among 45 purposefully selected internal migrant women. Eleven women who give birth at home and eight who gave birth at health facility in the last year preceding the study participated in in-depth interviews. Four primiparas’ young women, 18 women who have children and four grandmothers participated in focus group discussions. Guides were used for data collection. Using framework and content analysis three themes and four sub-themes emerged.
Results
According to the informants, patterns of service utilization varied widely. Antenatal care and infant immunization were fairly equally accessed across the different age groups of informants in their most recent birth irrespective of where they gave birth, yet obvious access gaps were reported in SBC and postpartum care. There were missed opportunities to postpartum care. Only few women had received postpartum care despite, some of the women delivering in the health facility and many visiting the health facilities for infant immunization. The four emerged sub-themes reportedly influencing access and utilization of SBC were social influences, physical access to health facility, risk perceptions and perceived quality of care and disrespect. Of these social, structural and health system factors, informants presented experiences of disrespectful care as a powerful deterrent to SBC.
Conclusions
Migrant women constitute disadvantaged communities in Addis Ababa and have unequal access to SBC and postpartum care. This happens in the backdrop of fairly equitable access to antenatal care, infant immunization, universal health coverage and free access to maternal and newborn care. Addressing the underlying determinants for the inequities and bridging the quality gaps in maternal and newborn services with due emphasis on respectful care for migrant women need tailored intervention and prioritization.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0110-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12939-014-0110-6
PMCID: PMC4246478  PMID: 25421142
Addis Ababa; Access; Antenatal; Disrespectful care; Equity; Ethiopia; Home birth; Missed opportunities; Postpartum care; Quality care; Skilled birth care; Utilization
14.  Acceptability of evidence-based neonatal care practices in rural Uganda – implications for programming 
Background
Although evidence-based interventions to reach the Millennium Development Goals for Maternal and Neonatal mortality reduction exist, they have not yet been operationalised and scaled up in Sub-Saharan African cultural and health systems. A key concern is whether these internationally recommended practices are acceptable and will be demanded by the target community. We explored the acceptability of these interventions in two rural districts of Uganda.
Methods
We conducted 10 focus group discussions consisting of mothers, fathers, grand parents and child minders (older children who take care of other children). We also did 10 key informant interviews with health workers and traditional birth attendants.
Results
Most maternal and newborn recommended practices are acceptable to both the community and to health service providers. However, health system and community barriers were prevalent and will need to be overcome for better neonatal outcomes. Pregnant women did not comprehend the importance of attending antenatal care early or more than once unless they felt ill. Women prefer to deliver in health facilities but most do not do so because they cannot afford the cost of drugs and supplies which are demanded in a situation of poverty and limited male support. Postnatal care is non-existent. For the newborn, delayed bathing and putting nothing on the umbilical cord were neither acceptable to parents nor to health providers, requiring negotiation of alternative practices.
Conclusion
The recommended maternal-newborn practices are generally acceptable to the community and health service providers, but often are not practiced due to health systems and community barriers. Communities associate the need for antenatal care attendance with feeling ill, and postnatal care is non-existent in this region. Health promotion programs to improve newborn care must prioritize postnatal care, and take into account the local socio-cultural situation and health systems barriers including the financial burden. Male involvement and promotion of waiting shelters at selected health units should be considered in order to increase access to supervised deliveries. Scale-up of the evidence based practices for maternal-neonatal health in Sub-Saharan Africa should follow rapid appraisal and adaptation of intervention packages to address the local health system and socio-cultural situation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-8-21
PMCID: PMC2459143  PMID: 18570672
15.  High ANC coverage and low skilled attendance in a rural Tanzanian district: a case for implementing a birth plan intervention 
Background
In Tanzania, more than 90% of all pregnant women attend antenatal care at least once and approximately 62% four times or more, yet less than five in ten receive skilled delivery care at available health units. We conducted a qualitative study in Ngorongoro district, Northern Tanzania, in order to gain an understanding of the health systems and socio-cultural factors underlying this divergent pattern of high use of antenatal services and low use of skilled delivery care. Specifically, the study examined beliefs and behaviors related to antenatal, labor, delivery and postnatal care among the Maasai and Watemi ethnic groups. The perspectives of health care providers and traditional birth attendants on childbirth and the factors determining where women deliver were also investigated.
Methods
Twelve key informant interviews and fifteen focus group discussions were held with Maasai and Watemi women, traditional birth attendants, health care providers, and community members. Principles of the grounded theory approach were used to elicit and assess the various perspectives of each group of participants interviewed.
Results
The Maasai and Watemi women's preferences for a home birth and lack of planning for delivery are reinforced by the failure of health care providers to consistently communicate the importance of skilled delivery and immediate post-partum care for all women during routine antenatal visits. Husbands typically serve as gatekeepers of women's reproductive health in the two groups - including decisions about where they will deliver- yet they are rarely encouraged to attend antenatal sessions. While husbands are encouraged to participate in programs to prevent maternal-to-child transmission of HIV, messages about the importance of skilled delivery care for all women are not given emphasis.
Conclusions
Increasing coverage of skilled delivery care and achieving the full implementation of Tanzania's Focused Antenatal Care Package in Ngorongoro depends upon improved training and monitoring of health care providers, and greater family participation in antenatal care visits.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-10-13
PMCID: PMC2850322  PMID: 20302625
16.  The influence of socio-cultural interpretations of pregnancy threats on health-seeking behavior among pregnant women in urban Accra, Ghana 
Background
Although antenatal care coverage in Ghana is high, there exist gaps in the continued use of maternity care, especially utilization of skilled assistance during delivery. Many pregnant women seek care from different sources aside the formal health sector. This is due to negative perceptions resulting from poor service quality experiences in health facilities. Moreover, the socio-cultural environment plays a major role for this care-seeking behavior. This paper seeks to examine beliefs, knowledge and perceptions about pregnancy and delivery and care-seeking behavior among pregnant women in urban Accra, Ghana.
Methods
A qualitative study with 6 focus group discussions and 13 in-depth interviews were conducted at Taifa-Kwabenya and Madina sub-districts, Accra. Participants included mothers who had delivered within the past 12 months, pregnant women, community members, religious and community leaders, orthodox and non-orthodox healthcare providers. Interviews and discussions were audio-taped, transcribed and coded into larger themes and categories.
Results
Evidence showed perceived threats, which are often given socio-cultural interpretations, increased women’s anxieties, driving them to seek multiple sources of care. Crucially, care-seeking behavior among pregnant women indicated sequential or concurrent use of biomedical care and other forms of care including herbalists, traditional birth attendants, and spiritual care. Use of multiple sources of care in some cases disrupted continued use of skilled provider care. Furthermore, use of multiple forms of care is encouraged by a perception that facility-based care is useful only for antenatal services and emergencies. It also highlights the belief among some participants that care from multiple sources are complementary to each other.
Conclusions
Socio-cultural interpretations of threats to pregnancy mediate pregnant women’s use of available healthcare services. Efforts to encourage continued use of maternity care, especially skilled birth assistance at delivery, should focus on addressing generally perceived dangers to pregnancy. Also, the attractiveness of facility-based care offers important opportunities for building collaborations between orthodox and alternative care providers with the aim of increasing use of skilled obstetric care. Conventional antenatal care should be packaged to provide psychosocial support that helps women deal with pregnancy-related fear.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-211
PMCID: PMC3840661  PMID: 24246028
Pregnancy; Perception; Beliefs; Socio-cultural; Healthcare; Ghana
17.  Still too far to walk: Literature review of the determinants of delivery service use 
Background
Skilled attendance at childbirth is crucial for decreasing maternal and neonatal mortality, yet many women in low- and middle-income countries deliver outside of health facilities, without skilled help. The main conceptual framework in this field implicitly looks at home births with complications. We expand this to include "preventive" facility delivery for uncomplicated childbirth, and review the kinds of determinants studied in the literature, their hypothesized mechanisms of action and the typical findings, as well as methodological difficulties encountered.
Methods
We searched PubMed and Ovid databases for reviews and ascertained relevant articles from these and other sources. Twenty determinants identified were grouped under four themes: (1) sociocultural factors, (2) perceived benefit/need of skilled attendance, (3) economic accessibility and (4) physical accessibility.
Results
There is ample evidence that higher maternal age, education and household wealth and lower parity increase use, as does urban residence. Facility use in the previous delivery and antenatal care use are also highly predictive of health facility use for the index delivery, though this may be due to confounding by service availability and other factors. Obstetric complications also increase use but are rarely studied. Quality of care is judged to be essential in qualitative studies but is not easily measured in surveys, or without linking facility records with women. Distance to health facilities decreases use, but is also difficult to determine. Challenges in comparing results between studies include differences in methods, context-specificity and the substantial overlap between complex variables.
Conclusion
Studies of the determinants of skilled attendance concentrate on sociocultural and economic accessibility variables and neglect variables of perceived benefit/need and physical accessibility. To draw valid conclusions, it is important to consider as many influential factors as possible in any analysis of delivery service use. The increasing availability of georeferenced data provides the opportunity to link health facility data with large-scale household data, enabling researchers to explore the influences of distance and service quality.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-34
PMCID: PMC2744662  PMID: 19671156
18.  Why do women prefer home births in Ethiopia? 
Background
Skilled attendants during labor, delivery, and in the early postpartum period, can prevent up to 75% or more of maternal death. However, in many developing countries, very few mothers make at least one antenatal visit and even less receive delivery care from skilled professionals. The present study reports findings from a region where key challenges related to transportation and availability of obstetric services were addressed by an ongoing project, giving a unique opportunity to understand why women might continue to prefer home delivery even when facility based delivery is available at minimal cost.
Methods
The study took place in Ethiopia using a mixed study design employing a cross sectional household survey among 15–49 year old women combined with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.
Results
Seventy one percent of mothers received antenatal care from a health professional (doctor, health officer, nurse, or midwife) for their most recent birth in the one year preceding the survey. Overall only 16% of deliveries were assisted by health professionals, while a significant majority (78%) was attended by traditional birth attendants. The most important reasons for not seeking institutional delivery were the belief that it is not necessary (42%) and not customary (36%), followed by high cost (22%) and distance or lack of transportation (8%). The group discussions and interviews identified several reasons for the preference of traditional birth attendants over health facilities. Traditional birth attendants were seen as culturally acceptable and competent health workers. Women reported poor quality of care and previous negative experiences with health facilities. In addition, women’s low awareness on the advantages of skilled attendance at delivery, little role in making decisions (even when they want), and economic constraints during referral contribute to the low level of service utilization.
Conclusions
The study indicated the crucial role of proper health care provider-client communication and providing a more client centered and culturally sensitive care if utilization of existing health facilities is to be maximized. Implications of findings for maternal health programs and further research are discussed.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-5
PMCID: PMC3562506  PMID: 23324550
Home births; Traditional birth attendants; Preference; Place of delivery; Ethiopia
19.  Maternal and child health in Yushu, Qinghai Province, China 
Introduction
Surmang, Qinghai Province is a rural nomadic Tibetan region in western China recently devastated by the 2010 Yushu earthquake; little information is available on access and coverage of maternal and child health services.
Methods
A cross-sectional household survey was conducted in August 2004. 402 women of reproductive age (15-50) were interviewed regarding their pregnancy history, access to and utilization of health care, and infant and child health care practices.
Results
Women's access to education was low at 15% for any formal schooling; adult female literacy was <20%. One third of women received any antenatal care during their last pregnancy. Institutional delivery and skilled birth attendance were <1%, and there were no reported cesarean deliveries. Birth was commonly attended by a female relative, and 8% of women delivered alone. Use of unsterilized instrument to cut the umbilical cord was nearly universal (94%), while coverage for tetanus toxoid immunization was only 14%. Traditional Tibetan healers were frequently sought for problems during pregnancy (70%), the postpartum period (87%), and for childhood illnesses (74%). Western medicine (61%) was preferred over Tibetan medicine (9%) for preventive antenatal care. The average time to reach a health facility was 4.3 hours. Postpartum infectious morbidity appeared to be high, but only 3% of women with postpartum problems received western medical care. 64% of recently pregnant women reported that they were very worried about dying in childbirth. The community reported 3 maternal deaths and 103 live births in the 19 months prior to the survey.
Conclusions
While China is on track to achieve national Millennium Development Goal targets for maternal and child health, women and children in Surmang suffer from substantial health inequities in access to antenatal, skilled birth and postpartum care. Institutional delivery, skilled attendance and cesarean delivery are virtually inaccessible, and consequently maternal and infant morbidity and mortality are likely high. Urgent action is needed to improve access to maternal, neonatal and child health care in these marginalized populations. The reconstruction after the recent earthquake provides a unique opportunity to link this population with the health system.
doi:10.1186/1475-9276-10-42
PMCID: PMC3213196  PMID: 21970463
Tibetan; Qinghai; Yushu; China; facility delivery; institutional delivery; maternal morbidity; maternal mortality; maternal health; child health; newborn health; Yushu earthquake
20.  Low Use of Skilled Attendants' Delivery Services in Rural Kenya 
The aim of the study was to estimate the use of skilled attendants’ delivery services among users of antenatal care and the coverage of skilled attendants’ delivery services in the general population in Kikoneni location, Kenya. Data collected from the registers at the Kikoneni Health Centre (KHC) from March 2001 through March 2003 were retrospectively reviewed. Antenatal care attendance, deliveries by skilled attendants, and the percentage of antenatal care attendees who delivered in a healthcare facility were assessed. Deliveries at the KHC were compared with expected births in the population to estimate the coverage of deliveries assisted by skilled attendants in the community. Of 994 women who attended the antenatal care clinic, 74 (7.4%) presented for delivery services. 5.4% of expected births in the population occurred in health facilities. The coverage of deliveries assisted by skilled attendants was far below the national and international goals. The use of institutional delivery services was very low even among antenatal care attendees. Targeted programmatic efforts are necessary to increase skilled attendant-assisted births, with the ultimate goal of reducing maternal mortality.
PMCID: PMC3001150  PMID: 17591343
Delivery; Obstetric care; Skilled birth attendants; Health facilities; Births; Maternity; Kenya
21.  Do Malawian women critically assess the quality of care? A qualitative study on women’s perceptions of perinatal care at a district hospital in Malawi 
Reproductive Health  2012;9:30.
Background
Malawi has a high perinatal mortality rate of 40 deaths per 1,000 births. To promote neonatal health, the Government of Malawi has identified essential health care packages for improving maternal and neonatal health in health care facilities. However, regardless of the availability of health services, women’s perceptions of the care is important as it influences whether the women will or will not use the services. In Malawi 95% of pregnant women receive antenatal care from skilled attendants, but the number is reduced to 71% deliveries being conducted by skilled attendants. The objective of this study was to describe women’s perceptions on perinatal care among the women delivered at a district hospital.
Methods
A descriptive study design with qualitative data collection and analysis methods. Data were collected through face-to-face in-depth interviews using semi-structured interview guides collecting information on women’s perceptions on perinatal care. A total of 14 in depth interviews were conducted with women delivering at Chiradzulu District Hospital from February to March 2011. The women were asked how they perceived the care they received from health workers during antepartum, intrapartum and postpartum. They were also asked about the information they received during provision of care. Data were manually analyzed using thematic analysis.
Results
Two themes from the study were good care and unsatisfactory care. Subthemes under good care were: respect, confidentiality, privacy and normal delivery. Providers’ attitude, delay in providing care, inadequate care, and unavailability of delivery attendants were subthemes under unsatisfactory care.
Conclusions
Although the results show that women wanted to be well received at health facilities, respected, treated with kindness, dignity and not shouted at, they were not critical of the care they received. The women did not know the quality of care to expect because they were not well informed. The women were not critical of the care they received because they were not aware of the standard of care. Instead they had low expectations. Health workers have a responsibility to inform women and their families about the care that women should expect. There is also a need for standardization of the antenatal information that is provided.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-9-30
PMCID: PMC3546032  PMID: 23158672
Antenatal information; Perinatal care information; Perinatal period; Quality of care; Skilled birth attendant
22.  Barriers to using skilled birth attendants’ services in mid- and far-western Nepal: a cross-sectional study 
Background
Skilled birth attendants (SBAs) provide important interventions that improve maternal and neonatal health and reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. However, utilization and coverage of services by SBAs remain poor, especially in rural and remote areas of Nepal. This study examined the characteristics associated with utilization of SBA services in mid- and far-western Nepal.
Methods
This cross-sectional study examined three rural and remote districts of mid- and far-western Nepal (i.e., Kanchanpur, Dailekh and Bajhang), representing three ecological zones (southern plains [Tarai], hill and mountain, respectively) with low utilization of services by SBAs. Enumerators assisted a total of 2,481 women. All respondents had delivered a baby within the past 12 months. We used bivariate and multivariate analyses to assess the association between antenatal and delivery care visits and the women’s background characteristics.
Results
Fifty-seven percent of study participants had completed at least four antenatal care visits and 48% delivered their babies with the assistance of SBAs. Knowing the danger signs of pregnancy and delivery (e.g., premature labor, prolonged labor, breech delivery, postpartum hemorrhage, severe headache) associated positively with four or more antenatal care visits (OR = 1.71; 95% CI: 1.41-2.07). Living less than 30 min from a health facility associated positively with increased use of both antenatal care (OR = 1.44; 95% CI: 1.18-1.77) and delivery services (OR = 1.25; CI: 1.03-1.52). Four or more antenatal care visits was a determining factor for the utilization of SBAs.
Conclusions
Less than half of the women in our study delivered babies with the aid of SBAs, indicating a need to increase utilization of such services in rural and remote areas of Nepal. Distance from health facilities and inadequate transportation pose major barriers to the utilization of SBAs. Providing women with transportation funds before they go to a facility for delivery and managing transportation options will increase service utilization. Moreover, SBA utilization associates positively with women’s knowledge of pregnancy danger signs, wealth quintile, and completed antenatal care visits. Nepal’s health system must develop strategies that generate demand for SBAs and also reduce financial, geographic and cultural barriers to such services.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-49
PMCID: PMC3878020  PMID: 24365039
Antenatal care; Delivery care; Utilization; Skilled birth attendant; Barrier; Nepal
23.  Evidence from community level inputs to improve quality of care for maternal and newborn health: interventions and findings 
Reproductive Health  2014;11(Suppl 2):S2.
Annually around 40 million mothers give birth at home without any trained health worker. Consequently, most of the maternal and neonatal mortalities occur at the community level due to lack of good quality care during labour and birth. Interventions delivered at the community level have not only been advocated to improve access and coverage of essential interventions but also to reduce the existing disparities and reaching the hard to reach. In this paper, we have reviewed the effectiveness of care delivered through community level inputs for improving maternal and newborn health outcomes. We considered all available systematic reviews published before May 2013 on the pre-defined community level interventions and report findings from 43 systematic reviews.
Findings suggest that home visitation significantly improved antenatal care, tetanus immunization coverage, referral and early initiation of breast feeding with reductions in antenatal hospital admission, cesarean-section rates birth, maternal morbidity, neonatal mortality and perinatal mortality. Task shifting to midwives and community health workers has shown to significantly improve immunization uptake and breast feeding initiation with reductions in antenatal hospitalization, episiotomy, instrumental delivery and hospital stay. Training of traditional birth attendants as a part of community based intervention package has significant impact on referrals, early breast feeding, maternal morbidity, neonatal mortality, and perinatal mortality. Formation of community based support groups decreased maternal morbidity, neonatal mortality, perinatal mortality with improved referrals and early breast feeding rates. At community level, home visitation, community mobilization and training of community health workers and traditional birth attendants have the maximum potential to improve a range of maternal and newborn health outcomes. There is lack of data to establish effectiveness of outreach services, mass media campaigns and community education as standalone interventions. Future efforts should be concerted on increasing the availability and training of the community based skilled health workers especially in resource limited settings where the highest burden exists with limited resources to mobilize.
doi:10.1186/1742-4755-11-S2-S2
PMCID: PMC4160921  PMID: 25209692
Quality of care; community based interventions; maternal health; newborn health; community mobilization; support groups; outreach; human resource; training; community health worker
24.  Antenatal care in practice: an exploratory study in antenatal care clinics in the Kilombero Valley, south-eastern Tanzania 
Background
The potential of antenatal care for reducing maternal morbidity and improving newborn survival and health is widely acknowledged. Yet there are worrying gaps in knowledge of the quality of antenatal care provided in Tanzania. In particular, determinants of health workers' performance have not yet been fully understood. This paper uses ethnographic methods to document health workers' antenatal care practices with reference to the national Focused Antenatal Care guidelines and identifies factors influencing health workers' performance. Potential implications for improving antenatal care provision in Tanzania are discussed.
Methods
Combining different qualitative techniques, we studied health workers' antenatal care practices in four public antenatal care clinics in the Kilombero Valley, south-eastern Tanzania. A total of 36 antenatal care consultations were observed and compared with the Focused Antenatal Care guidelines. Participant observation, informal discussions and in-depth interviews with the staff helped to identify and explain health workers' practices and contextual factors influencing antenatal care provision.
Results
The delivery of antenatal care services to pregnant women at the selected antenatal care clinics varied widely. Some services that are recommended by the Focused Antenatal Care guidelines were given to all women while other services were not delivered at all. Factors influencing health workers' practices were poor implementation of the Focused Antenatal Care guidelines, lack of trained staff and absenteeism, supply shortages and use of working tools that are not consistent with the Focused Antenatal Care guidelines. Health workers react to difficult working conditions by developing informal practices as coping strategies or "street-level bureaucracy".
Conclusions
Efforts to improve antenatal care should address shortages of trained staff through expanding training opportunities, including health worker cadres with little pre-service training. Attention should be paid to the identification of informal practices resulting from individual coping strategies and "street-level bureaucracy" in order to tackle problems before they become part of the organizational culture.
doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-36
PMCID: PMC3123249  PMID: 21599900
25.  Increasing access to institutional deliveries using demand and supply side incentives: early results from a quasi-experimental study 
Background
Geographical inaccessibility, lack of transport, and financial burdens are some of the demand side constraints to maternal health services in Uganda, while supply side problems include poor quality services related to unmotivated health workers and inadequate supplies. Most public health interventions in Uganda have addressed only selected supply side issues, and universities have focused their efforts on providing maternal services at tertiary hospitals. To demonstrate how reforms at Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) can lead to making systemic changes that can improve maternal health services, a demand and supply side strategy was developed by working with local communities and national stakeholders.
Methods
This quasi-experimental trial is conducted in two districts in Eastern Uganda. The supply side component includes health worker refresher training and additions of minimal drugs and supplies, whereas the demand side component involves vouchers given to pregnant women for motorcycle transport and the payment to service providers for antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care. The trial is ongoing, but early analysis from routine health information systems on the number of services used is presented.
Results
Motorcyclists in the community organized themselves to accept vouchers in exchange for transport for antenatal care, deliveries and postnatal care, and have become actively involved in ensuring that women obtain care. Increases in antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care were demonstrated, with the number of safe deliveries in the intervention area immediately jumping from <200 deliveries/month to over 500 deliveries/month in the intervention arm. Voucher revenues have been used to obtain needed supplies to improve quality and to pay health workers, ensuring their availability at a time when workloads are increasing.
Conclusions
Transport and service vouchers appear to be a viable strategy for rapidly increasing maternal care. MakCHS can design strategies together with stakeholders using a learning-by-doing approach to take advantage of community resources.
doi:10.1186/1472-698X-11-S1-S11
PMCID: PMC3059470  PMID: 21410998

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