The prevalence of disrespect and abuse during facility-based maternity care in Malawi: evidence from direct observations of labor and delivery

Reprod Health. 2017 Sep 6;14(1):111. doi: 10.1186/s12978-017-0370-x.


Background: There is increasing evidence throughout the world that the negative treatment of pregnant women during labor and delivery can be a barrier to seeking skilled maternity care. At this time, there has been little quantitative evidence published on disrespect and abuse (D&A) in Malawi. The objective of this research is to describe the prevalence of disrespect and abuse during labor and delivery through the secondary analysis of direct clinical observations and to describe the association between the observation of D&A items with the place of delivery and client background characteristics.

Methods: As part of the evaluation of the Helping Babies Breathe intervention, direct observations of labor and delivery were conducted in August 2013 from 27 out of the 28 districts in Malawi. Frequencies of disrespect and abuse items organized around the Bowser and Hill categories of disrespect and abuse and presented in the White Ribbon Alliance's Universal Rights of Childbearing Women Framework were calculated. Bivariate analysis was done to assess the association between selected client background characteristics and the place of delivery with the disrespect and use during childbirth.

Results: A total of 2109 observations were made across 40 facilities (12 health centers and 28 hospitals) in Malawi. The results showed that while women were frequently greeted respectfully (13.9% were not), they were often not encouraged to ask the health provider questions (73.1%), were not given privacy (58.2%) and were not encouraged to have a support person present with them (83.2%). Results from the bivariate analysis did not show a consistent relationship between place of delivery and D&A items, where the odds of being shouted at was lower in a health center when compared to a hospital (OR: 0.19; CI: 0.59-0.62) while there was a higher odds of clients not being asked if they have any concerns if they were in a health center when compared to a hospital (OR: 2.40; CI: 1.06-5.44). Women who were HIV+ had significantly lower odds of not having audio and visual privacy (OR: 0.34, CI: 0.12-0.97), of not being asked about her preferred delivery position (OR: 0.17, CI: 0.05-0.65) and of not being asked if she has any other problems she is concerned about (OR 0.38, CI:0.15-0.96).

Conclusion: This study is among the first to quantify the prevalence of disrespect and abuse during labor and delivery in Malawi through direct clinical observations. Measurement of the poor treatment of women during childbirth is essential for understanding the scope of the problem and how to address this issue.

Keywords: Direct observations; Disrespect and abuse; Malawi; Respectful maternity care.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Delivery, Obstetric / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Maternal Health Services / standards*
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Quality of Health Care*