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Vaginal examinations and mistreatment of women during facility-based childbirth in health facilities: secondary analysis of labour observations in Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria.

Adu-Bonsaffoh K, Mehrtash H, Guure C, Maya E, Vogel JP, Irinyenikan TA, Aderoba AK, Balde MD, Adanu R, Bohren MA, Tuncalp Ö


Background Previous research on mistreatment of women during childbirth has focused on physical and verbal abuse, neglect and stigmatisation. However, other manifestations of mistreatment, such as during vaginal examinations, are relatively underexplored. This study explores four types of mistreatment of women during vaginal examinations: (1) non-consented care, (2) sharing of private information, (3) exposure of genitalia and (4) exposure of breasts.

Methods A secondary analysis of data from the WHO multicountry study ‘How Women Are Treated During Childbirth’ was conducted. The study used direct, continuous labour observations of women giving birth in facilities in Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria. Descriptive and multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to describe the different types of mistreatment of women during vaginal examinations and associated privacy measures (ie, availability of curtains).

Results Of the 2016 women observed, 1430 (70.9%) underwent any vaginal examination. Across all vaginal examinations, 842/1430 (58.9%) women were observed to receive non-consented care; 233/1430 (16.4%) women had their private information shared; 397/1430 (27.8%) women had their genitalia exposed; and 356/1430 (24.9%) had their breasts exposed. The observed prevalence of mistreatment during vaginal examinations varied across countries. There were country-level differences in the association between absence of privacy measures and mistreatment. Absence of privacy measures was associated with sharing of private information (Ghana: adjusted OR (AOR) 3.8, 95% CI 1.6 to 8.9; Nigeria: AOR 4.9, 95% CI 1.9 to 12.7), genitalia exposure (Ghana: AOR 6.7, 95% CI 2.9 to 14.9; Nigeria: AOR 6.5, 95% CI 2.9 to 14.5), breast exposure (Ghana: AOR 5.9, 95% CI 2.8 to 12.9; Nigeria: AOR 2.7, 95% CI 1.3 to 5.9) and non-consented vaginal examination (Ghana: AOR 2.5, 95% CI 1.4 to 4.7; Guinea: AOR 0.21, 95% CI 0.12 to 0.38).

Conclusion Our results highlight the need to ensure better communication and consent processes for vaginal examination during childbirth. In some settings, measures such as availability of curtains were helpful to reduce women’s exposure and sharing of private information, but context-specific interventions will be required to achieve respectful maternity care globally.

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  • Journal: BMJ Global Health
  • Published: 01/11/2021
  • Volume: 5
  • Issue: Suppl 2
  • Pagination: e006640