When the baby remains there for a long time, it is going to die so you have to hit her small for the baby to come out": justification of disrespectful and abusive care during childbirth among midwifery students in Ghana

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Despite global attention, high levels of maternal mortality continue to plague many low- and middle-income settings. One important way to improve the care of women in labour is to increase the proportion of women who deliver in a health facility. However, due to poor quality of care, including being disrespected and abused, women are reluctant to come to facilities for delivery care. The current study sought to examine disrespectful and abusive treatment towards labouring women from the perspective of midwifery students who were within months of graduation.

For this study, we conducted focus groups with final year midwifery students at 15 public midwifery training colleges in all 10 of Ghana’s regions. Focus group discussions were recorded and transcribed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the US and Ghana analysed the qualitative data.

Key Messages

While students were able to talk at length as to why respectful care is important, they were also able to recount times when they both witnessed and participated in disrespectful and abusive treatment of labouring women. The themes which emerged from these data are: 1) rationalization of disrespectful and abusive care; 2) the culture of blame and; 3) no alternative to disrespect and abuse.

Although midwifery students in Ghana’s public midwifery schools highlight the importance of providing high-quality, patient-centred respectful care, they also report many forms of disrespect and abuse during childbirth. Without better quality care, including making care more humane, the use of facility-based maternity services in Ghana is likely not to improve. This study provides an important starting point for educators, researchers, and policy makers to re-think how the next generation of healthcare providers needs to be prepared to provide high-quality, respectful care to women during labour and delivery in low-resource settings.

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