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BMC Womens Health. 2010 Feb 17;10:6. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-10-6.

New paradigm old thinking: The case for emergency obstetric care in the prevention of maternal mortality in Nigeria.

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Department of Community Health, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.



The continuing burden of maternal mortality, especially in developing countries has prompted a shift in paradigm from the traditional risk assessment approach to the provision of access to emergency obstetric care services for all women who are pregnant. This study assessed the knowledge of maternity unit operatives at the primary and secondary levels of care about the concept of emergency obstetric care (EmOC) and investigated the contents of antenatal care (ANC) counseling services they delivered to clients. It also described the operatives' preferred strategies and practices for promoting safe motherhood and averting maternal mortality in South-west Nigeria.


The study population included all the 152 health workers (doctors, midwives, nurses and community health extension workers) employed in the maternity units of all the public health facilities (n = 22) offering maternity care in five cities of 2 states. Data were collected with the aid of a self-administered, semi-structured questionnaire and non-participant observation checklist. Results were presented using descriptive statistics.


Ninety one percent of the maternity unit staff had poor knowledge concerning the concept of EmOC, with no difference in knowledge of respondents across age groups. While consistently more than 60% of staff reported the inclusion of specific client-centered messages such as birth preparedness and warning/danger signs of pregnancy and delivery in the (ANC) delivered to clients, structured observations revealed that less than a quarter of staff actually did this. Furthermore, only 40% of staff reported counseling clients on complication readiness, but structured observations revealed that no staff did. Only 9% of staff had ever been trained in lifesaving skills (LSS). Concerning strategies for averting maternal deaths, 70% of respondents still preferred the strengthening of routine ANC services in the health facilities to the provision of access to EmOC services for all pregnant women who need it.


We concluded that maternity unit operatives at the primary and secondary care levels in South-west Nigeria were poorly knowledgeable about the concept of emergency obstetric care services and they still prioritized the strengthening of routine antenatal care services based on the risk approach over other interventions for promoting safe motherhood despite a global current shift in paradigm. There is an urgent need to reorientate/retrain the staff in line with global best practices.

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