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Open Access Research article

Antenatal and obstetric care in Afghanistan – a qualitative study among health care receivers and health care providers

Zuhal Rahmani1 and Mette Brekke2*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway, Blindern, P.O. Box 1078, Oslo, 0316, Norway

2 Department of General Practice, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1130, Blindern, Oslo, 0318, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:166  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-166

Published: 6 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Despite attempts from the government to improve ante- and perinatal care, Afghanistan has once again been labeled “the worst country in which to be a mom” in Save the Children’s World’s Mothers’ Report. This study investigated how pregnant women and health care providers experience the existing antenatal and obstetric health care situation in Afghanistan.

Methods

Data were obtained through one-to-one semi-structured interviews of 27 individuals, including 12 women who were pregnant or had recently given birth, seven doctors, five midwives, and three traditional birth attendants. The interviews were carried out in Kabul and the village of Ramak in Ghazni Province. Interviews were taped, transcribed, and analyzed according to the principles of Giorgi’s phenomenological analysis.

Results

Antenatal care was reported to be underused, even when available. Several obstacles were identified, including a lack of knowledge regarding the importance of antenatal care among the women and their families, financial difficulties, and transportation problems. The women also reported significant dissatisfaction with the attitudes and behavior of health personnel, which included instances of verbal and physical abuse. According to the health professionals, poor working conditions, low salaries, and high stress levels contributed to this matter. Personal contacts inside the hospital were considered necessary for receiving high quality care, and bribery was customary. Despite these serious concerns, the women expressed gratitude for having even limited access to health care, especially treatment provided by a female doctor. Health professionals were proud of their work and enjoyed the opportunity to help their community.

Conclusion

This study identified several obstacles which must be addressed to improve reproductive health in Afghanistan. There was limited understanding of the importance of antenatal care and a lack of family support. Financial and transportation problems led to underuse of available care, especially by poorly educated rural women. Patients frequently complained of being treated disrespectfully, and health care providers correspondingly complained about poor working conditions leading to exhaustion and a lack of compassion. Widespread corruption, including the necessity of personal contacts inside hospitals, was also emphasized as an obstacle to equitable antenatal and obstetric health care.

Keywords:
Antenatal care; Obstetric care; Afghanistan; Qualitative study