Background: Stillbirth and perinatal mortality issues continue to receive inadequate policy attention in Ghana despite government efforts maternal health care policy intervention over the years. The development has raised concerns as to whether Ghana can achieve the World Health Organization target of 12 per 1000 live births by the year 2030.
Purpose: In this study, we compared stillbirth and perinatal mortality between two groups of women who registered and benefitted from Ghana's 'free' maternal health care policy and those who did not. We further explored the contextual factors of utilization of maternal health care under the 'free' policy to find explanation to the quantitative findings.
Methods: The study adopted a mixed method approach, first using two rounds of Ghana Demographic and Health Survey data sets, 2008 and 2014 as baseline and end line respectively. We constructed outcome variables of stillbirth and perinatal mortality from the under 5 mortality variables (n = 487). We then analyzed for association using multiple logistics regression and checked for sensitivity and over dispersion using Poisson and negative binomial regression models, while adjusting for confounding. We also conducted 23 in-depth interviews and 8 focus group discussions for doctors, midwives and pregnant women and analyzed the contents of the transcripts thematically with verbatim quotes.
Results: Stillbirth rate increased in 2014 by 2 per 1000 live births. On the other hand, perinatal mortality rate declined within the same period by 4 per 1000 live births. Newborns were 1.64 times more likely to be stillborn; aOR: 1.64; 95% [CI: 1.02, 2.65] and 2.04 times more likely to die before their 6th day of life; aOR: 2.04; 95% [CI: 1.28, 3.25] among the 'free' maternal health care policy group, compared to the no 'free' maternal health care policy group, and the differences were statistically significant, p< 0.041; p< 0.003, respectively. Routine medicines such as folic acid and multi-vitamins were intermittently in short supply forcing private purchase by pregnant women to augment their routine requirement. Also, pregnant women in labor took in local concoction as oxytocin, ostensibly to fast track the labor process and inadvertently leading to complications of uterine rapture thus, increasing the risk of stillbirths.
Conclusion: Even though perinatal mortality rate declined overall in 2014, the proportion of stillbirth and perinatal death is declining slowly despite the 'free' policy intervention. Shortage of medicine commodities, inadequate monitoring of labor process coupled with pregnant women intake of traditional herbs, perhaps explains the current rate of stillbirth and perinatal death.