Background: Abusive treatment of women during childbirth has been documented in low-resource countries and is a deterrent to facility utilization for delivery. Evidence for interventions to address women's poor experience is scant. We assessed a participatory community and health system intervention to reduce the prevalence of disrespect and abuse during childbirth in Tanzania.
Methods and findings: We used a comparative before-and-after evaluation design to test the combined intervention to reduce disrespect and abuse. Two hospitals in Tanga Region, Tanzania were included in the study, 1 randomly assigned to receive the intervention. Women who delivered at the study facilities were eligible to participate and were recruited upon discharge. Surveys were conducted at baseline (December 2011 through May 2012) and after the intervention (March through September 2015). The intervention consisted of a client service charter and a facility-based, quality-improvement process aimed to redefine norms and practices for respectful maternity care. The primary outcome was any self-reported experiences of disrespect and abuse during childbirth. We used multivariable logistic regression to estimate a difference-in-difference model. At baseline, 2,085 women at the 2 study hospitals who had been discharged from the maternity ward after delivery were invited to participate in the survey. Of these, 1,388 (66.57%) agreed to participate. At endline, 1,680 women participated in the survey (72.29% of those approached). The intervention was associated with a 66% reduced odds of a woman experiencing disrespect and abuse during childbirth (odds ratio [OR]: 0.34, 95% CI: 0.21-0.58, p < 0.0001). The biggest reductions were for physical abuse (OR: 0.22, 95% CI: 0.05-0.97, p = 0.045) and neglect (OR: 0.36, 95% CI: 0.19-0.71, p = 0.003). The study involved only 2 hospitals in Tanzania and is thus a proof-of-concept study. Future, larger-scale research should be undertaken to evaluate the applicability of this approach to other settings.
Conclusions: After implementation of the combined intervention, the likelihood of women's reports of disrespectful treatment during childbirth was substantially reduced. These results were observed nearly 1 year after the end of the project's facilitation of implementation, indicating the potential for sustainability. The results indicate that a participatory community and health system intervention designed to tackle disrespect and abuse by changing the norms and standards of care is a potential strategy to improve the treatment of women during childbirth at health facilities. The trial is registered on the ISRCTN Registry, ISRCTN 48258486.
Trial registration: ISRCTN Registry, ISRCTN 48258486.