A considerable proportion of women in some lower-income countries are subjected to ill-treatment during labor and childbirth. This is going by evidence from a new study led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the study published in The Lancet, researchers found that more than one in every three women in some countries experienced some forms of physical or verbal abuse during childbirth. The women were also made to undergo non-consensual examinations and procedures in some cases.
The research was carried out in four lower-income countries, namely: Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar, and Nigeria.
Findings from the study were shocking and contrary to WHO guidelines on maternity care for women. In a 2014 release, the leading global health organization described abuse and disrespect during childbirth as a violation of women’s rights. It said they also harm the trust women have in their healthcare providers.
Researchers observed that the incidence of mistreatment was greater among younger and less-educated women.
Poor treatment during labor and childbirth
The study involved observation of 2,016 women during their labor and childbirth. The researchers also interviewed 2,672 women after childbirth to find out more about their experience.
It was found that 838 of the 2,016 women observed during labor and childbirth experienced verbal or physical abuse, discrimination or stigma. That number represents about 42 percent of the women monitored.
Researchers also observed similar degrees of poor treatment among the women they surveyed.
Of the 2,016 women, 752 (38 percent) faced significant levels of verbal abuse. The most common cases involved getting shouted at, mocked, or scolded.
Researchers reported that 14 percent of the women were subjected to physical abuse. Slaps, hits, and punches were the most common forms of this type of abuse.
Some women (11) also faced stigma or discrimination during childbirth. These occurrences were usually on the basis of ethnicity or race.
There was a high incidence of non-consensual medical procedures as well. Of the 253 episiotomies that were carried out, 190 (75 percent) were performed without obtaining the consent of the women. Fifty-nine percent of vaginal examinations and 13 percent of cesarean births took place without consent.
Episiotomies are surgical procedures that are carried out to widen the opening through which the baby will pass.
Combating mistreatment of women during childbirth
In 2018, the WHO issued some recommendations on intrapartum care to ensure that women have a great experience during childbirth. It called on maternity care providers to protect the dignity, privacy, and confidentiality of women.
In light of the new evidence on ill-treatment, the organization says that health systems need to be more responsible in their functions. It calls for further training of healthcare providers in the proper manner of treating women during delivery.
Redesigning of labor wards is one of the strategies that could help improve the care of women, according to WHO. It says wards should be remodeled to meet women’s needs, including that for privacy.
Wards should be designed to allow for labor companionship, the United Nations health agency says. Women should have the freedom to choose someone that will stay with them during labor and childbirth.
WHO expresses the need to ensure informed consent is obtained for all medical interventions.
The world health body also wants professional associations of maternity care providers to do more. It was them to be more proactive in tackling the maltreatment of women during childbirth by their members.