Health workers' perceptions of facilitators of and barriers to institutional delivery in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014 Apr 10:14:137. doi: 10.1186/1471-2393-14-137.


Background: Evidence shows that the three delays, delay in 1) deciding to seek medical care, 2) reaching health facilities and 3) receiving adequate obstetric care, are still contributing to maternal deaths in low-income countries. Ethiopia is a major contributor to the worldwide death toll of mothers with a maternal mortality ratio of 676 per 100,000 live births. The Ethiopian Ministry of Health launched a community-based health-care system in 2003, the Health Extension Programme (HEP), to tackle maternal mortality. Despite strong efforts, universal access to services remains limited, particularly skilled delivery attendance. With the help of 'the three delays' framework, this study explores health-service providers' perceptions of facilitators and barriers to the utilization of institutional delivery in Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia.

Methods: Twelve in-depth interviews were carried out with eight health extension workers (HEWs) and four midwives. Each interview lasted between 90 and 120 minutes. Data were analysed through a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Three themes emerged from the analysis: the struggle between tradition and newly acquired knowledge, community willingness to deal with geographical barriers, and striving to do a good job with insufficient resources. These themes represent the three steps in the path towards receiving adequate institutional delivery care at a health facility. Of the themes, 'increased community awareness', 'organization of the community' and 'hospital with specialized staff' were recognized as facilitators. On the other hand, 'delivery as a natural event', 'cultural tradition and rituals', 'inaccessible transport', 'unmet community expectation' and 'shortage of skilled human resources' were represented as barriers to institutional delivery.

Conclusions: The participants in this study gave emphasis to the major barriers to institutional delivery that are closely connected with the three delays model. Despite the initiatives being implemented by the Tigray Regional Health Bureau, much is still needed to enhance the humanization approach of delivery care on a broader level of the region. A quick solution is needed to address the major issue of lack of transport accessibility. The poor capacity of the HEWs to provide delivery services, calls for reconsidering staffing patterns of remote health posts and readdressing the issue of downgraded health facilities would address unmet community needs.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Community Health Services
  • Delivery, Obstetric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethiopia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Facilities*
  • Home Childbirth / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Maternal Mortality / trends
  • Middle Aged
  • Midwifery / organization & administration*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / organization & administration*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires