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Reprod Health. 2011 Mar 28;8:5. doi: 10.1186/1742-4755-8-5.

The growth of a culture of evidence-based obstetrics in South Africa: a qualitative case study.

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Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council, South Africa.



While the past two decades have seen a shift towards evidence-based obstetrics and midwifery, the process through which a culture of evidence-based practice develops and is sustained within particular fields of clinical practice has not been well documented, particularly in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries). Forming part of a broader qualitative study of evidence-based policy making, this paper describes the development of a culture of evidence-based practice amongst maternal health policy makers and senior academic obstetricians in South Africa.


A qualitative case-study approach was used. This included a literature review, a policy document review, a timeline of key events and the collection and analysis of 15 interviews with policy makers and academic clinicians involved in these policy processes and sampled using a purposive approach. The data was analysed thematically.


The concept of evidence-based medicine became embedded in South African academic obstetrics at a very early stage in relation to the development of the concept internationally. The diffusion of this concept into local academic obstetrics was facilitated by contact and exchange between local academic obstetricians, opinion leaders in international research and structures promoting evidence-based practice. Furthermore the growing acceptance of the concept was stimulated locally through the use of existing professional networks and meetings to share ideas and the contribution of local researchers to building the evidence base for obstetrics both locally and internationally. As a testimony to the extent of the diffusion of evidence-based medicine, South Africa has strongly evidence-based policies for maternal health.


This case study shows that the combined efforts of local and international researchers can create a culture of evidence-based medicine within one country. It also shows that doing so required time and perseverance from international researchers combined with a readiness by local researchers to receive and actively promote the practice.

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