BACKGROUND: Auxiliary Midwives (AMWs) are unpaid volunteer health workers assisting qualified paid midwives in maternal and child health care mainly in hard-to-reach areas of Myanmar. This paper describes the relationship between AMWs and the health system in providing maternal and child services as perceived by the community, AMWs themselves and health care providers in one remote township of Myanmar. METHOD: A qualitative study was conducted in Ngape Township, Myanmar. A total of 15 focus group discussions with midwives, AMWs, community members and mothers were conducted. Ten key informant interviews were performed with national, district and township level health planners and implementers of maternal and child health services. Thematic analysis was done using the ATLAS.ti software. RESULTS: AMWs occupy a unique position between the community and the health sector in the study township. The relationship and trust with the community is built upon prolonged presence providing health care, skill building and fulfilling community expectations. Health care providers' expectations to provide only preventive care, health promotion and education and childbirth care are often exceeded in reality when emergencies occur in hard-to-reach areas. This challenge to handle emergency situations with no support and limited skills and training is considered as most difficult by the AMWs. This mismatch of service provision expectations by both the community and other health care providers has put AMWs in a position which they describe as being the “salt between the beans” an essential ingredient but often invisible between the beans. CONCLUSION: The trust and relationship developed by AMWs over four decades of community practice serving as the mediator role is an untapped resource that can facilitate future community-based maternal and child health interventions in Myanmar.
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