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Disrespect and Abuse in Maternal Health

We need to talk about D&A.

It’s unthinkable. Expectant mothers worldwide are going to health facilities to give birth, but the treatment they receive during labor is not that of care and assistance. Instead, during these crucial moments of giving birth to new life, these women are subject to abuse, neglect, and disrespect.

Disrespect and abuse (D&A) during childbirth has been documented in countries around the world. Maternal health experts claim that this level of abuse is discouraging women from delivering in health facilities, which creates a much greater risk of obstetric fistula.

Reports of disrespectful and abusive treatment during childbirth in facilities have included:

  • Physical abuse
  • Humiliation and verbal abuse
  • Coercive medical procedures (including sterilization)
  • Lack of confidentiality
  • Refusal to give pain medication
  • Gross violations of privacy
  • Neglecting women during childbirth to suffer life-threatening, avoidable complications
  • Detention of women and their newborns in facilities after childbirth due to an inability to pay

Millennium Development Goal 5 calls for worldwide improvement in maternal care and survival for all women especially during childbirth. However, according to recent reports, there are still an abundance of cases of D&A, which severely need to be recognized, addressed and intervened.

The WHO lists the following solutions:

  1. Greater support from governments and development partners for research and action on disrespect and abuse.
  2. Initiate, support and sustain programs designed to improve the quality of maternal health care, with a strong focus on respectful care as an essential component of quality care.
  3. Emphasizing the rights of women to dignified, respectful health care throughout pregnancy and childbirth.
  4. Generating data related to respectful and disrespectful care practices, systems of accountability and meaningful professional support are required.
  5. Involve all stakeholders, including women, in efforts to improve quality of care and eliminate disrespectful and abusive practices.

This is a gross violation of human rights.

Every woman has the right to dignified, respectful health care throughout pregnancy and childbirth.