Background: Women's delays in reaching emergency obstetric care (EmOC) facilities contribute to high maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity in low-income countries, yet few studies have quantified travel times to EmOC and examined delays systematically. We defined a delay as the difference between a woman's travel time to EmOC and the optimal travel time under the best case scenario. The objectives were to model travel times to EmOC and identify factors explaining delays. i.e., the difference between empirical and modelled travel times.
Methods: A cost-distance approach in a raster-based geographic information system (GIS) was used for modelling travel times. Empirical data were obtained during a cross-sectional survey among women admitted in a life-threatening condition to the maternity ward of Herat Regional Hospital in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008. Multivariable linear regression was used to identify the determinants of the log of delay.
Results: Amongst 402 women, 82 (20%) had no delay. The median modelled travel time, reported travel time, and delay were 1.0 hour [Q1-Q3: 0.6, 2.2], 3.6 hours [Q1-Q3: 1.0, 12.0], and 2.0 hours [Q1-Q3: 0.1, 9.2], respectively. The adjusted ratio (AR) of a delay of the "one-referral" group to the "self-referral" group was 4.9 [95% confidence interval (CI): 3.8-6.3]. Difficulties obtaining transportation explained some delay [AR 2.1 compared to "no difficulty"; 95% CI: 1.5-3.1]. A husband's very large social network (> = 5 people) doubled a delay [95% CI: 1.1-3.7] compared to a moderate (3-4 people) network. Women with severe infections had a delay 2.6 times longer than those with postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) [95% CI: 1.4-4.9].
Conclusions: Delays were mostly explained by the number of health facilities visited. A husband's large social network contributed to a delay. A complication with dramatic symptoms (e.g. PPH) shortened a delay while complications with less-alarming symptoms (e.g. severe infection) prolonged it. In-depth investigations are needed to clarify whether time is spent appropriately at lower-level facilities. Community members need to be sensitised to the signs and symptoms of obstetric complications and the urgency associated with them. Health-enhancing behaviours such as birth plans should be promoted in communities.