Understanding key healthcare system challenges experienced by women during pregnancy and birth is crucial to scale up available interventions and reduce perinatal mortality. A community perspective about preferences and experience of care during this period can be used to improve community-based programs to reduce perinatal mortality.
Using a qualitative exploratory approach, we examined women’s experience of perinatal loss, aiming to understand the main factors, as perceived and experienced by women, leading to perinatal loss. Qualitative in-depth Interviews were conducted with 25 mothers with a recent perinatal loss, three family members, six healthcare officials, and two focus group discussions with 17 lady health workers. Data were analysed using inductive and deductive coding, by thematic analysis.
Our findings revealed three distinct but interrelated themes, which include: 1) poor access to care during pregnancy and birth, 2) unavailability of appropriate healthcare services, and 3) poor quality of care during pregnancy and birth. Women frequently delayed seeking formal care around birth because of delays by themselves, their family members, or the local traditional birth attendants who frequently induced births at women’s homes without recognising the dangers to the mothers or their babies.
Preference for private care was common, however they often could not bear the cost of care when they needed caesarean section or in-patient care for their sick newborns because these services were absent in public health facilities of the district. Referral to the regional tertiary care hospital was often not officially arranged leading to risky births in small and crowded private clinics.
Women’s views about negative staff attitudes and the lack of attention given to them in public health facilities highlighted a lack of quality and respectful antenatal care. Improvement in women’s access to essential care during pregnancy and around birth, availability of emergency obstetric and newborn care, improving the quality of maternal and newborn care in both public and private health facilities at the district level might reduce perinatal mortality in Pakistan.