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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Aug;71(4):760-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.05.025. Epub 2010 Jun 4.

Use of biomedical obstetric care in rural Tanzania: the role of social and material inequalities.

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  • 1Department of Maternal and Child Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 401 Rosenau Hall, CB #7445, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7445, USA.


Despite over 20 years of efforts to improve maternal health, complications of pregnancy and childbirth continue to threaten women's lives in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa. To reduce maternal mortality levels and achieve Millennium Development Goal Five, institutions working for safe motherhood are committed to making biomedical obstetric care more available to women during childbirth. However, implementation of this strategy is not reaching women at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum for reasons that are not well understood. Using data from fieldwork conducted between September 2007 and June 2008, this study examines women's use of biomedical obstetric care in two rural districts of south-central Tanzania where this care was being supplied. Specifically, it seeks to explain how social and material inequalities affect decisions and behaviors related to childbirth. In addressing this aim we employed a mixed-methods study design. Effects of sociodemographic characteristics on obstetric care use were examined with logistic regression analysis (n = 1150), while perspectives and experiences of childbearing women were explored with participant observation and in-depth interviews (n = 48). The results from quantitative and qualitative study components were interpreted in light of each other. Statistically significant social and material factors related to use of care included ethnicity, education, parity, and household assets. Qualitative themes involved physical, economic, and social access to health facilities as well as issues of risk perception and self-identity. The overall findings suggest that use of obstetric care is influenced by a complex interplay of factors closely tied to relative status in family and community. As individual agents differentially positioned by multiple markers of power, women pragmatically negotiate amidst a wide array of deterrents and motivators to secure the best care they can. In order to improve use of biomedical obstetric care, interventions aimed at increasing availability of these services should focus on improving access for women who are disadvantaged.

(c) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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