Soon-to-be mothers face physical/verbal abuse in low-income countries

October 25, 2019

Researchers from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health in the University of Melbourne, Australia, have recently reported observations of labour/delivery mistreatment of women at hospitals in low-income countries, such as Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria; with similar findings also reported in Myanmar.

According to the research, women were likely to suffer abuse within 30 minutes before and 15 minutes after giving birth. More than 40% of some 2,670 women studied were subject to physical or verbal abuse, including being shouted at or having a provider forcefully push down on the woman’s abdomen, and faced discrimination or stigmatisation because of race or ethnicity in the moments before birth.

To complicate matters, some women were not asked permission for delivery procedures – 13% of those who got a caesarean section and 15% of those who received episiotomies were not asked beforehand; privacy was another issue – during labor, 37% of women had no curtains or partitions separating them from other patients in the room; and more than half the women were not offered pain relief, and even then, nearly 20% were not given pain relief when they requested it.

But these recent observations may be an underestimate, as Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, President and Founder of Saving Mothers, an non-profit organisation seeking to improve maternal health care, still sees a number of women being mistreated during delivery: “I think there is a male-female dynamic at play. Most providers are male – and they don’t see this as wrong.”

Lead researcher Meghan Bohren, meanwhile, writes that respectful maternity care is dependent on the balance of power, which must shift “from systems to people, and to women themselves.”


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