Barriers to provision of respectful maternity care in Zambia: Results from a qualitative study through the lens of behavioral science

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Recently, a growing body of literature has established that disrespect and abuse during delivery is prevalent around the world. This complex issue has not been well studied through the lens of behavioral science, which could shed light on the psychological dimensions of health worker behavior and how their micro-level context may be triggering abuse. Our research focuses on the behavioral drivers of disrespect and abuse in Zambia to develop solutions with health workers and women that improve the experience of care during delivery. Methods: A qualitative study based on the behavioral design methodology was conducted in Chipata District, Eastern Province. Study participants included postpartum women, providers (staff who attend deliveries), supervisors and mentors, health volunteers, and birth companions. Observations were conducted of client-provider interactions on labor wards at two urban health centers and a district hospital. In-depth interviews were audio recorded and English interpretation from these recordings was transcribed verbatim. Data was analyzed using thematic analysis and findings were synthesized following the behavioral design methodology. Results: Five key behavioral barriers were identified: 1) providers do not consider the decision to provide respectful care because they believe they are doing what they are expected to do, 2) providers do not consider the decision to provide respectful care explicitly since abuse and violence are normalized and therefore the default, 3) providers may decide that the costs of providing respectful care outweigh the gains, 4) providers believe they do not need to provide respectful care, and 5) providers may change their mind about the quality of care they will provide when they believe that disrespectful care will assist their clinical objectives. We identified features of providers’ context – the environment in which they live and work, and their past experiences – which contribute to each barrier, including supervisory systems, visual cues, social constructs, clinical processes, and other features. Conclusions: Client experience of disrespectful care during labor and delivery in Chipata, Zambia is prevalent. Providers experience several behavioral barriers to providing respectful maternity care. Each of these barriers is triggered by one or more addressable features in a provider’s environment. By applying the behavioral design methodology to the challenge of respectful maternity care, we have identified specific and concrete contextual cues that targeted solutions could address in order to facilitate respectful maternity care.






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