WHO Releases First Statement on Preventing Disrespect and Abuse During Childbirth

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By: Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

We can count today as a victory for women around the world. Today the World Health Organization (WHO) released the consensus statement “Prevention and elimination of disrespect and abuse during childbirth” – the first of its kind. Besides being a violation of human rights, disrespect and abuse (D&A) is a major barrier to women seeking care in facilities, the WHO-recommended location for childbirth to prevent maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidities. The release of this statement comes at a critical time as it will be disseminated at the UN General Assembly this week at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in South Africa next week.

The Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), along with 25 other partner organizations, have endorsed this statement, which calls for:

  1. Greater support from governments and development partners for research and action
  2. Programmes to improve the quality of maternal health care, with a strong focus on respectful care
  3. Emphasizing the rights of women to dignified, respectful healthcare through pregnancy and childbirth
  4. Generating data related to respectful and disrespectful care practices, systems of accountability and meaningful professional support
  5. Involving all stakeholders, including women, in efforts to improve quality of care and eliminate disrespectful and abuse practices

These calls for action directly reflect our work at the MHTF. The Hansen Project, which promotes respectful maternity care (RMC) and tackles D&A in Ethiopia and Tanzania, has been working in all five of the above areas. Of note, the program works to strengthen programmatic efforts to eradicate D&A. In addition, we’ve been researching and disseminating data on RMC and D&A to improve the dialogue with all stakeholders for maternity care in these countries.

The MHTF is also a hub for resources on RMC and D&A. Our Respectful Maternity Care topic page provides a myriad of information and resources on the topic. On the page you can find in-depth background on the problem, organizations working in RMC, recent publications, toolkits, resources, and information from the technical meeting convened by the MHTF, Measuring Advocacy for Policy Change: The case for respectful maternity care.

The MHTF is proud to endorse this document especially as it supports the work we have been doing for RMC and D&A. We are working for a world where mothers can receive the care they need and want in a respectful manner, thereby preventing mortality and morbidity and, most of all, ensuring health.

Check back tomorrow for more details on how the MHTF’s work on respectful maternity care will be featured in Cape Town next week!