With the aim of promoting institutional births and reducing the high maternal and child mortality rates in rural and poor zones, the government of Nicaragua is supporting the creation of maternity waiting homes. This study analyzes that strategy and examines the factors associated with the use of maternity waiting homes and institutional birth. To that end, we apply a quantitative approach, by means of an econometric analysis of the data extracted from surveys conducted in 2006 on a sample of women and parteras or traditional birth attendants, as well as a qualitative approach based on interviews with key informants. Results indicate that although the operation of the maternity waiting homes is usually satisfactory, there is still room for improvement along the following lines: (i) disseminating information about the homes to both women and men, as the latter frequently decide the course of women's healthcare, and to parteras, who can play an important role in referring women; (ii) strengthening the postpartum care; (iii) ensuring financial sustainability by obtaining regular financial support from the government to complement contributions from the community; and (iv) strengthening the local management and involvement of the regional government. These measures might be useful for health policy makers in Nicaragua and in other developing countries that are considering this strategy.
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