Increasing access to and utilization of health care services is not sufficient for improving maternal health outcomes. The quality of care a woman receives during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum affects her health, the health of her child and the likelihood that she will seek care in the future.

High quality care should be:

  • Safe—delivering health care which minimizes risks and harm to service users, including avoiding preventable injuries and reducing medical errors
  • Effective—providing services based on scientific knowledge and evidence-based guidelines
  • Timely—reducing delays in providing and receiving health care
  • Efficient—delivering health care in a manner that maximizes resource use and avoids waste
  • Equitable—delivering health care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, geographical location or socioeconomic status
  • People-centered—providing care which takes into account the preferences and aspirations of individual service users and the cultures of their communities

Measuring quality is one of the first steps towards improving it, but measurement can be challenging given the complex and interconnected aspects of women’s experiences with the maternal health care system. The availability of infrastructure and supplies, the health care workers’ level of training, provider-patient relationships and many other factors affect the quality of care a woman receives, and some of these elements are easier to measure than others. Researchers and practitioners have proposed different ways of capturing quality of antenatal, intrapartum and postpartum care. However, many indicators that researchers currently use to measure quality have not been validated in various global settings, begging the question: How much do we really know about the quality of maternal health care around the world?

Survey-based studies have demonstrated wide variation in health facilities’ capacity to deliver basic maternity services and manage obstetric complications: In sub-Saharan Africa, only one out of every ten health facilities providing maternity care is able to perform cesarean sections, and often times those facilities operate without essential infrastructure such as a safe water source or electricity. Other studies have illustrated the high prevalence of disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth, including instances of women being scolded, abandoned and even physically beaten by health care staff, promoted efforts to measure and improve the quality of antenatal and postnatal care and created novel measures to track autonomy and respect along the continuum of care. Numerous papers have discussed, measured and analyzed skilled birth attendance as an indicator of quality, contributing to an ongoing dialogue about who is capable of providing high quality maternity care and where those deliveries should take place.

Designing interventions to improve quality of care is a critical component of ending preventable maternal mortality and requires a better assessment of the factors that matter most to women. Addressing the challenges faced by frontline providers, health policy makers and program implementers trying to improve maternal health is also key. Continuing the global dialogue on quality of maternal health care is crucial for answering some of the most pressing questions:

  1. What are the best strategies for accurately measuring quality of maternal health care?
  2. In what ways might high quality care look different across diverse sociocultural settings?
  3. How does the WHO definition of quality of care compare to the real-life experiences of women receiving maternity care services?
  4. What kind of programs, policy changes and other interventions are most effective for addressing issues of quality?

The Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) strives to ensure that the global maternal health community is well-informed and equipped to tackle these difficult questions and work together to improve the health and wellbeing of women, mothers and newborns around the globe.


Key Papers

Recent Publications

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Documents & Reports

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Technical Tools

The Role of the MHTF

Featured Resources

In partnership with Argentina’s Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy, the MHTF developed the Obstetric Emergency Drills Training Kit to help providers around the world prepare for and more effectively manage obstetric emergencies such as postpartum hemorrhage and pre-eclampsia/eclampsia.

Obstetric Emergency Drills Training Kit | English | Spanish | French

In 2016, the MHTF supported the launch of The Lancet Maternal Health Series, which focuses on quality of maternal health care around the world.

The Lancet Maternal Health Series

In 2011, the MHTF partnered with the Public Library of Science (PLOS) to publish a collection of perspectives and original research on the quality of global maternal health care.

MHTF-PLOS Collection: Quality of Maternal Health Care


Meetings & Events

In July 2017, the MHTF partnered with Ariadne Labs to co-host a special webinar titled, “Integrating Respectful Maternity Care Into Quality Improvement Initiatives.”

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In April 2017, as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, the MHTF hosted a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center that focused on over-intervention in maternity care, a key issue related to maternal health care quality.

Too Much Too Soon: Addressing Over-Intervention in Maternity Care

In September 2014, the MHTF hosted a technical meeting to discuss maternal newborn health integration and quality.

Integration of Maternal and Newborn Health Care Technical Meeting

In June 2014, as a part of the Advancing Dialogue on Maternal Health Series, the MHTF hosted a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center to examine innovative models for delivering high quality antenatal care.

Delivering Quality Antenatal Care in Low Resource Settings: Examining Innovative Models and Planning for Scale Up


Blog series: Quality of Maternal Health Care