Effectiveness of respectful care policies for women using routine intrapartum services: a systematic review

Reprod Health. 2018 Feb 6;15(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s12978-018-0466-y.


Background: Several studies have identified how mistreatment during labour and childbirth can act as a barrier to the use of health facilities. Despite general agreement that respectful maternity care (RMC) is a fundamental human right, and an important component of quality intrapartum care that every pregnant woman should receive, the effectiveness of proposed policies remains uncertain. We performed a systematic review to assess the effectiveness of introducing RMC policies into health facilities providing intrapartum services.

Methods: We included randomized and non-randomized controlled studies evaluating the effectiveness of introducing RMC policies into health facilities. We searched PubMed, CINAHL, LILACS, AJOL, WHO RHL, and Popline, along with ongoing trials registers (ISRCT register, ICTRP register), and the White Ribbon Respectful Maternity Care Repository. Included studies were assessed for risk of bias. Certainty of evidence was assessed using GRADE criteria.

Findings: Five studies were included. All were undertaken in Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Africa), and involved a range of components. Two were cluster RCTs, and three were before/after studies. In total, over 8000 women were included at baseline and over 7500 at the endpoints. Moderate certainty evidence suggested that RMC interventions increases women's experiences of respectful care (one cRCT, approx. 3000 participants; adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 3.44, 95% CI 2.45-4.84); two observational studies also reported positive changes. Reports of good quality care increased. Experiences of disrespectful or abusive care, and, specifically, physical abuse, were reduced. Low certainty evidence indicated fewer accounts of non-dignified care, lack of privacy, verbal abuse, neglect and abandonment with RMC interventions, but no difference in satisfaction rates. Other than low certainty evidence of reduced episiotomy rates, there were no data on the pre-specified clinical outcomes.

Conclusion: Multi-component RMC policies appear to reduce women's overall experiences of disrespect and abuse, and some components of this experience. However, the sustainability of the demonstrated effect over time is unclear, and the elements of the programmes that have most effect have not been examined. While the tested RMC policies show promising results, there is a need for rigorous research to refine the optimum approach to deliver and achieve RMC in all settings.

Keywords: Africa; Disrespect and abuse; Respectful care; Respectful maternity care; Review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery, Obstetric / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Maternal Health Services / organization & administration
  • Maternal Health Services / standards
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality of Health Care*